Many Rastas and those embracing aspects of Rasta culture strive to eat primarily or only ital foods, which can be compared with the Jewish concept of kosher food and the Islamic concept of halal food.
Rastas embrace living naturally off of the resources given by Jah, or God. Therefore, ital foods avoid processing and additives and are preferred to be in nearly natural state. The term "ital" is derived from the English word "vital," and ital foods are those that are seen as providing good nourishment to the body without unneeded and even poisonous additives.
Rejection of Western CultureThe Rastafari Movement began a a black-empowerment movement in Jamaica in the 1930s when those of African descent generally lived very poorly and were subject to white leadership of European descent. Africans were originally brought to Jamaica as slaves in large commercial enterprises.
As such, the movement rejected Western culture as oppressive and destructive. Many modern methods of food handling are seen as being part of Western culture. Preservatives are needed to allow transportation to distant grocery stores and pesticides are used for greater harvests and, thus, greater profits, for example. Rastas prefer fresh foods grown locally in order to limit or (better yet) avoid preservatives.
Ital EatingMany Rastas follow strict limitations as to what is acceptable to eat. However, others follow lesser limitations either by choice or by availability.
MeatsA great many Rastas as vegetarian, and some are vegans. For those who eat the flesh of animals, fish is the most common eaten, particularly fish less than 12 inches long. Fish larger than a foot commonly eat other fish and are therefore less suitable than vegetarian fish.
Rastas almost always avoid pork for the same reasons Muslims and Jews avoid it: prohibitions spelled out in the Old Testament. Shellfish are avoided for the same reason.
AdditivesArtificial flavors and colors as well as preservatives are avoided when possible in ital cooking. Salt is also commonly rejected, although pure sea salt is sometimes seen as acceptable. Oils are also often rejected.
Rastas prefer organically grown foods because they lack the pesticides and other chemicals used in non-organic foods, as well as not being genetically modified.
Bleached foods such as white rice and white bread are also avoided, both because they are adulterated and because they provide less nutrients than in their natural forms.
The bleaching of starches is also a largely Western practice, where coarse brown breads were once seen as common while soft white breads were embraced as pure, refined and sophisticated.
DrugsRastas reject drugs such as cocaine and heroin as well as drinking to excess. Many avoid alcohol altogether. Tobacco is also often avoided because of health concerns. Ital foods are meant to be wholesome to the body, and these things cause significant damage.
Marijuana, however, is seen as having powerful spiritual benefits and is commonly smoked. It is also an unadulterated herb, therefore not going against the general ideal of ital foods.
Cooking VesselsSome Rastas avoid metal pans, pots and utensils, preferring ceramics and wood.
DrinksMany Rastas avoid caffeine and, therefore, coffee. The vegan choice of many also rules out milk. Fruit juices are therefore popular, as are herbal teas.
Common Ital FoodsItal cooking is heavily based on unadulterated fruits, vegetables and other naturally grown items eaten either raw or cooked. In Jamaica, this often includes beans, rice, coconut, bananas, peppers, potatoes, onion, callalloo (a leafy green vegetable), tamarind (a tree fruit), cocoa, mangos, and sugar, although this has more to do with preference and availability than any requirements of ital cooking.
Coconut milk is a basic ingredient in ital cooking.
Herbs and spices are used plentifully in place of artificial flavors. Common flavorings include cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and thyme.