food / travel

The Ital Diet, A Rastafarian Recipe For Eating Right

For a combination of spiritual and political reasons, Rastas developed a diet based on healthy, local ingredients that was a precursor, it turns out, to some current food trends.

Cooking in Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Cooking in Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Eva Sauphie

Bob Marley used to drink a strange beverage every morning made of a reddish colored seaweed known as Irish moss, so named because it's thought to have been introduced in Jamaica in the 17th century by Irish immigrant workers. The algae has been growing on the coast ever since.

The drink derived from it, known for its high content of vitamins, iron and calcium, is now marketed in a ready-to-consume version. It has little to do with the brew that was so dear to the king of reggae. Either way, the Irish moss beverage is part of what's known as the "ital diet," which was born with the Rastafari movement in the 1930s.

The word "ital" is a contraction of "vital" and "I" (the unifying English pronoun "I" favored by Rastafaris), and the diet that goes with it consists mainly of vegetables and unprocessed products. Homemade is the key word for ital followers.

Jamaican chef Rasta Mokko, one of the leading exponents of ital or vegan cuisine, takes the time to simmer his Rastafarian nectar over a low flame in his garden, commenting on the benefits of the fruits and plants that grow on his land.

"I add lime, milk and it makes Supligen," he jokes in a video posted on his successful Ras Kitchen YouTube channel. "With that, no more prostate cancer."

In a sad irony, Bob Marley died of melanoma skin cancer at the age of 37, despite drinking his homemade, iodized concoction daily.

For Rastas, preparing their own food means rejecting consumerist society.

"For Rastas, preparing their own food means rejecting consumerist society," says Alexandre Grondeau, founder of reggae.fr, one of the first French media outlets dedicated to the genre and its culture. "We can see a political interpretation, because to consume what we produce is to be anti-Babylon, anti-colonial."

Vegan chef Delroy Brown agrees. Brown runs Gee Wiz, an ital restaurant in Treasure Beach, in southwest Jamaica.

"The goal of this diet is to ban all food that was imported by the colonists," says the 66-year-old, who also works as a caterer for Jammin Voyages, an agency specializing in customized trips to Jamaica. "The ital diet encourages us to eat what grows naturally on our land."

This fervent defender of Pan-Africanist movement says the idea is also "to get closer to our slave ancestors who grew their own food during the colonial era." Thus, items on the menu in his colorful canteen include vegetable-based stews and soups that also, in some cases, contain fish — "to support local fishing," he says.

Vegetarian or vegan, the ital diet has several variations. Bob Marley himself allowed some fish on his plate, but never went on tour without his chef.

"Marley did not go to restaurants," says Alexandre Grondeau, author of Bob Marley: A Universal Hero. Grondeau recalls that during his first tour with the Wailers in England, in the early 1970s, Marley had to find something to cook ital. "But it was winter. There were no vegetables and everything was expensive at the time," the author explains.

Cooking at home, cultivating and eating locally: a triptych that is reminiscent of the consumption patterns encouraged by environmental protection activists in the context of the current ecological crisis. Like vegans, followers of ital cuisine do not eat meat or animal products such as milk and eggs. Environmentally-friendly before its time, their approach is less political and social than spiritual.

Rastas want to free themselves from Christianity and yet their eating habits are drawn from the Bible.

Rastas want to free themselves from Christianity, a religion imported by European settlers. And yet, their eating habits are drawn from the Bible: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat." (Genesis, 1:29).

This pattern of consumption is also influenced by passages from Leviticus, and embraces what's known as the livity movement, a contraction of "live" and Leviticus.

"We can also see an animist approach inherited from African spiritualties," says Coralie Jouhier, co-founder of the ital and Afro-vegan restaurant Jah Jah le Tricycle in Paris. "Some pioneers of the Rasta movement like Leonard Howell, apostle of the return to Africa, encouraged being aware of what we eat, to be close to nature, to respect the cycle of life, his body and his spirit," Jouhier adds.

Legumes (lentils, beans), alkaline foods (spinach, broccoli), sources of protein from oilseeds (almonds, peanuts) and more recently "raw food" (salads, carrots and beets) are the basis of the ital detox.

"One day I was in the studio in Jamaica with the reggae star Anthony B, and we wanted to have food delivered," says Alexandre Grondeau. "He was amazed and said: "You see, I eat what I am, that's why I'm healthy. We've never seen a carrot go crazy like your cows do!""

Ital vegan bowl — Photo: JAH JAH via Instagram

At a time when being a city dweller in Western capitals is synonymous with chia seeds and yoga, the ital diet is slowly beginning to be accepted in practice. But for a long time it was an oddity, something associated with out-there 1970s eating habits.

"Today, concert organizers no longer receive Jamaican artists the way they used to, by laughing at them and serving them platters of cold cuts," says Alexandre Grondeau. "Society has changed its view and has understood that Rastas were avant-garde in their way of eating."

The movement has spread beyond Jamaica's borders to U.S. and British artists such as Jah Sun and his song No Bones No Blood. There's also Macka B and his ital anthem What We Eat. Both continue to advocate this culinary philosophy in music.

In the meantime, there's still the question of certification. A label is being structured in the United States for an official recognition of this almost century-old diet. "It's only a matter of time," says Coralie Jouhier. "I'm convinced that ital products will soon be available in organic stores."

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Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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