For Rastas, Eating Pure Food From the Earth is a Sacred Duty
THOUGH DREADLOCKS AND reggae music are the familiar symbols of the Rastafari religion, the lesser-known style of eating its followers adhere to is more telling of the belief system. To stay healthy and spiritually connected to the earth, Rastas eat a natural diet free from additives, chemicals, and most meat.
The style of primarily vegan eating is known as ital cooking. Rastas commonly say, “Ital is vital,” pointing to how the diet got its name.
The Rastafari religion and political movement was born in Jamaica in the 1930s and promoted an African-centric way of looking at the Bible. It has since fanned out across the Caribbean and beyond to over a million followers, the most famous of which was the late reggae singer Bob Marley. Rastas are commonly called Locksmen and Dreadlocks, as they believe God (Jah) instructed them to to never cut their hair.
Daniel “Nashamba-I” Crabble hasn’t cut his hair in decades. His dreads touch the floor, so he wraps them around his head to keep the weight off his neck and out of the way when cooking. A master of ital cooking, Nashamba-I converted to the Rastafari religion as a young man and now farms a couple of steep acres on the western side of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“We don’t use the word ‘cook’, since they use things like butter and salt,” Nashamba-I explains to me in the kitchen of his green-colored home with red and gold accents—official Rastafari colors. He says I can call him an “ital dubmaster,” which is the title he uses on his catering company’s business card.
Traditionally speaking, dubmasters are skilled producers of dub music, a subgenre of reggae that’s typified by remixing songs to focus on drum and bass. But Nashamba-I uses the title figuratively, perhaps to signify his creative cooking methods.