Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Rastafarian Diet

I wrote this and then found out it was Bob Marley's birthday! Serendipity! Unfortunately it took me a few days to get it posted up...

For the first six years I was a vegetarian I lived first in a college dormitory and then in my first apartment as a single woman with several other women. The staples of my diet were Kraft macaroni and cheese, pizza, and bagels. I did eat vegetables, but often canned or microwaved. I had gone veggie for ethical reasons and wasn't all that concerned about the healthiness of the food I was eating, and my living situations were not conducive (I thought) to eating healthily. Additionally, my roommates ate far worse than I did, so by comparison it seemed like I was doing ok. 

Changing these habits was catalyzed in part by my discovery that the Rastafarians, whose music and culture I had long admired, were strict vegans who ate a diet of whole, unrefined foods. Among their rules were: no meat, milk, or eggs, nothing from a can, and no white rice, pasta, flour, sugar, or salt (sea salt was acceptable.) This diet was called "Ital," a patois of "Vital," and was inspired both by certain biblical passages and the Rastafarians' general outlook on life, which included shunning modernized, industrial culture and connecting with the earth. After dining at two Ital restaurants in Harlem, I was totally hooked.

Only one Rastafarian cookbook exists, and I own it, but I find a lot of the recipes a little dicey. (Here it is if you're interested.) The measurements are often not totally successful, many dishes call for obscure vegetables which are almost impossible to find outside of the Caribbean, and many call for the small but atomic Scotch Bonnet pepper, a teeny shred of which renders most dishes so spicy it hurts to even smell them, which based on the food I've eaten in Rasta restaurants is not typical of the cuisine. (Perhaps in Jamaica it packs more of a punch.) The following is my version of an "Ital Stew," which I will admit bears little resemblance to the original recipe in the book, yet certainly meets the Ital criteria:

1 bunch collard greens (substitute for callaloo-- I've also used kale)
3 large carrots
3 large yams
3 parnsips
1 onion
2 cups lentils
Parsley, fresh or dried, to taste
Sea salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to taste

Chop vegetables into large hunks, cover all with water in a large pot, bring to a boil, simmer until all is soft (about 45 min.) Eat with whole grain bread to render a complete protein.

This dish is a favorite around my house in the winter.

For a more authentic Rasta experience, I strongly recommend you check out Uptown Juice Bar on 125th Street near Park Ave. They have serve-yourself steamer trays of dozens of delectable foods, from collard greens, pumpkin, and curried chickpeas, to mock meat stir-fry and BBQ skewers (made from tofu) which would probably help to soothe the meat cravings of a newly indoctrinated vegetarian. Other offerings include fresh juices and smoothies similar to the one I posted the other day, vegan baked goods, and delicious vegan pastries such as tofu cheesecake, carrot cake, and cassava pudding. Another option is Strictly Roots on 123rd and Adam Clayton Powell (6th), which has similar cuisine and a quieter atmosphere (I like their food, but nothing compares to the fare at the Juice Bar.) It is well worth the trip uptown if you live downtown... I would venture to say it is well worth a trip from almost anywhere!

1 comment:

  1. I love it, this write up was just fabulous! The soup sounds simple, yet very delectable!
    I will certainly get to the jiuse bar soon. RThanks for all the great background on the ital soup, all together, i want to "taste" all of this.

    Thank you and keep writing us all!