Vegan food is booming in coastal towns, but the same can’t be said for other parts of the country. And that’s a problem. While eating a plant-based diet is often touted as a millennial white fad that accompanies gentrification, the Italian The eating habits practiced by Rastafarians in the Caribbean remind us that blacks have a long and rich tradition of plant-based eating. And access to fresh, culturally relevant food across the United States hinges on a broader understanding of non-white vegan food traditions.
Most Western diners know Jamaican cuisine for its bold flavors like “jerk” and emphasis on meat: namely goat, beef and chicken. However, Rastafarians (“Rastas” for short) have been promoting vegan lifestyles for almost a century. Beyond the stereotypes of men living in dreadlocks smoking marijuana, Rastafarianism is a spiritual practice rich in political ideology and respect for the Earth. And their veganism is part of a larger belief in black sovereignty, health, and ecological harmony.
Rastafarians have been promoting vegan lifestyles for almost a century
Last year, 9.7 million Americans were on a plant-based diet. And black Americans are three times more likely to be vegans than non-black Americans. As the vegan food market swells, a deeper understanding of black plant-based food stories becomes even more crucial.
There are signs of progress: Black vegan chefs continue to celebrate African diaspora plant-based cuisine, and vegan influencers of color speak out against cultural appropriation. As more consumers shift to plant-based diets to decarbonize their plates, knowing the various vegan eating patterns can help decolonize the movement and stay true to its diverse historical roots.
Italian is vital
The 1930s brought widespread deprivation of civil rights to Jamaica’s peasant class, and Rastafarianism was born in opposition to British colonial control. Strongly influenced by the black nationalist beliefs of Marcus Garvey, the Rastafarians reject then and today the hegemonic power structures that contribute to the oppression of blacks.
Garvey, a respected activist in the Caribbean, prophesied that a crowned king in the East would bring redemption to the black race. When Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie came to power in 1930, nascent Rastas saw him as the black messiah. The fulfillment of this prophecy became the foundation of the Rastafari movement, even deriving its name from the title of Emperor Selassie before he was crowned, “Ras Tafari”.
Religion, culture and political dissent converge in the Rasta worldview. Leonard P. Howell, one of the early Rastafarian leaders, drew on the Hindu practices of Indian workers brought to Jamaica, to promote Italian living.
“Italian comes from [dread talk] word for “vital,” says Qulen Wright, a Rasta chef and co-founder of Caribbean Style Vegan, a restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut. “It’s based on life: an energy granted by God (Jah), flowing through all people and all living things. Those who eat Italian avoid processed foods and meat (considered “dead” food) because it lacks the vitality so fundamental to Rasta spirituality. Rasta communities have created their own English dialect, “dread talk”, as another way to resist the language of their colonizers.
This is why Rastafarians generally wear their hair in dreadlocks: to celebrate the strength of black hair, and because cutting your hair, thus altering the natural state of the body, is harmful to life.. In 1981, Bob Marley, perhaps the most famous Rastafarian, died after refusing a life-saving toe amputation because it violated Rastarian beliefs around life. Not all practicing Rastafarians are as strict as Marley. Different groups, known as mansions, have their own principles, but this notion of life unites Rastafarians around the world.
As Jamaican chef Tamika Francis, founder of Food & Folklore, a food startup based in Boston, explains: “[Rastafarians] have always been concerned with what we now call “slow food” and are concerned with food production without sacrificing flavor. »Stews and soups are at the heart of Italian cuisine, and traditionally cooked slowly in clay pots with yams, potatoes, gungo peas (pigeon), kidney beans, pumpkin, callaloo (a leafy green native to the Caribbean), herbs (because strict Rastafarians forgo salt) and at the heart of it all: fresh coconut milk.
One-pot meals allow Rasta communities to feed many people at low cost and return to common culinary practices during slavery. “The slaves had to throw something on the fire and get back to work, so nutrient-dense ingredients were essential,” Francis continues. “Italy the food may seem very simple, but it is so intentional.
Land, work and liberation
Rastafarians have a complex relationship with sovereignty, largely due to the turmoil surrounding the end of slavery in the Caribbean in 1834 and the following years of British rule. As Howell and other Rasta leaders grew in numbers among Jamaica’s peasant class in the 1930s, cities saw a gradual exile of Rasta to rural parishes.
From the start, the colonial powers viewed Rastafarian anti-capitalist beliefs as a threat and criminalized those who openly identified themselves as such. To escape persecution, the Rastas fled to the mountains, where they were able to access land more freely and practice self-reliance. The culture of the ganja Granted them economic freedom and supported their ritualized use of the herb for spiritual enlightenment, which is why Rastafarianism is so often associated with marijuana today.
The vegetable gardens and multi-hectare plots now common among Rasta communities are remnants of supply land – hilly land unsuitable for cash crop cultivation that plantation owners set aside for the people they have. enslaved. Italy eating calls for a return to this form of self-sufficiency, and a diet rich in vegetables and fodder foods typical of newly liberated Afro-Caribbean people.
Decolonizing veganism – overturning its whitewashed history – is a critical act of resistance.
With imported foreign food remaining heavily subsidized in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean today, Rasta farmers keep locally grown organic food alive. Using the principles of permaculture and rain-fed agriculture, isolated Rastafarian communities grow food for families and earn extra income by hosting occasional ecotourists.
The Rastafarian movement is notable for its anticipation of modern concerns around food justice. Independent Rasta communities often boycott commercial grocery stores and actively address the food insecurity faced by their poorest inhabitants. “A Rastafarian food stall can sell a meal to locals for $ 7, but charge tourists double the price,” says Akeia de Barros Gomes, Ph.D., a cultural anthropologist-turned-curator at Mystic Seaport, who has worked with them. Rasta communities in the Virgin Islands. “The poorest residents ate for free because their meals were subsidized by foreign capital from tourists. “
Lest we confuse Rastafarians with idyllic hippie figures who abandon the modern world, the Rastafarian movement has clear political goals. While the movement’s early leaders advocated for repatriation to Ethiopia, its contemporary goal is the liberation of Afro-Caribbean and all blacks: a way to resist shoddy food imported from Western countries and reconnect the old ones. slaves with a lineage to eat in synchronization with the Earth.
Decolonizing veganism – overturning its whitewashed history – is a critical act of resistance. Progress occurs when more scholars, influencers and food critics of color reclaim their plant-based food stories, opening up more inclusive possibilities for all diners.
is a third culture child, writing at the intersection of environmentalism, darkness and pop culture. It covers climate technology, black environmentalism, and shines a light on environmental ethics embedded in Caribbean livelihoods. Paige has worked in mission-oriented organizations and currently holds a communications position with the Boston Ujima Project. She can be reached on paigecurtis.me