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What is Ital?

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  • Written By: Matt Brady
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Ital, also spelled I-tal, is a Rastafarian diet. It is meant to increase a person's livity, or life energy, with natural and pure foods. The religion-based diet rejects artificial additives in food, and discourages health-destructive substances, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Vegetarianism is also a tenet of this diet. The Ital diet can be considered a set of religious food laws, and warrants comparison to Kashrut, Jewish food laws, and Halal, Islamic food laws. Like Rastafarianism, Ital originated in Jamaica. The diet is not merely considered to be healthy eating, but an important ritual that honors both Jah, or God, and the individual.

Ital is a variation on the word vital, signifying Rasta's belief in a diet essential to human health and well-being. It's a common practice within the Rastafari movement to remove the first letter or few letters of a word and replace it with the letter I. It's a dialect the Rastafarians created to signify a human's connectedness to nature.

One of the unique aspects of Ital is its complete rejection of salt in foods. Rastafarians adopted this habit well before it became widely fashionable to moderate one's salt intake. The concept is to prepare food that is clean and natural. To that effect, not just salt is excluded, but anything considered artificial or not pure.

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Most Rastas who follow Ital are strict vegetarians. Anything containing flesh and blood is generally taboo. Bearing resemblance to Judaism, the Rastafarian diet considers pork, in particular, very unclean. Shell fish and other meats are generally rejected as well. The underlying premise is that meats are unclean for the body. As in Judaism, the body is considered to be something of a temple, putting in only the most pure foods is believed to be of the utmost importance. For this reason, many Rastas following the diet cook in clay pots and avoid canned products to avoid possible contamination from metal.

Under this diet, alcohol and other drugs are also restricted or completely rejected. It may seem odd that many Rastas reject alcohol even as they smoke marijuana religiously. Marijuana, however, is considered a natural herb that increases livity by bringing one into a more prayerful and meditative state. Alcohol, on the other hand, is considered destructive. Cigarettes are also considered taboo for their destructive element.

Recipes for Ital meals are plentiful and can be found on numerous Web sites as well as in cookbooks. Even though these meals don't use salt, they are rich in flavor due to their use of many natural herbs and spices. Coconut, a staple in Jamaica, is a common ingredient.

Like practices in other religions, the level to which Ital is adhered to depends on the individual Rasta. Some follow it to its strictest measure, rejecting all meats, salts, additives and alcohols. Some even go as far as to prepare food and eat with only utensils and cooking accessories made of natural ingredients. Another Rasta might be less strict, drinking alcohol occasionally as opposed to never, for example.

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