Summer is in full swing now for us northerly folk and everyone is feeling good. Well, at least everyone is paying a lot of attention to whether they’re “feelin’ good” or not. Parties, live music, cookouts, fun in the sunshine–if you’re not feeling good in the summertime, something’s missing. We all know a big part of “feelin’ good” is treating your body right. Along with getting enough exercise, putting good wholesome things into your body is essential to achieving this aim. Of course, you say, but how do you figure what these “tings” should be? Thankfully for us here in the community, the Jamaican/Caribbean culture has developed a hearty tradition utilizing natural foods, herbs, and other botanicals to promote wellness of the body and spirit. We need not go far from our roots for inspiration!
A good starting point is learning about “Ital” cuisine, a style of Jamaican cooking that is synonymous with vital (for good living). The word actually means ‘pure’ in Jamaican patois slang, and in its culinary application means non-processed, organic foods devoid of any contributions from animals. In its strictest form, the Ital diet precludes the use of meat, blood, milk (considered white blood), fish, any chemical additives (including salt, considered a processed additive), alcohol, and tobacco (toxic, and also a processed item). Essentially anything that could cause toxins to accumulate in the body isn’t allowed in, as the aim is to keep the blood stream pure.

Despite the name of this column, I’m going to look into a wide scope covering cuisine, nutrition, fruits, herbs, roots, tonics, alternative medicine and therapies, and any myths and beliefs I may come across related to health and wellness. I’ll also set out and explore the vibrant enclaves of Jamaican and Caribbean folks in the New York City area, giving you a first hand look at some healthy oriented purveyors of cuisine and nutritional products. I will try to gather and include some recipes from the chefs I encounter, but as a general rule I will just provide links to sites with Ital recipes and the like so you can all search out what will entice your own appetites.

So, I invite you pull aside the branches and step into the world of the Ital Grove. Wonderful wholesome things are there to be discovered. Please feel free to send me your questions, comments, desires, and food/nutritional items or myths to be investigated. Any first hand accounts from your neck of the woods are also welcome.

Next month: Find out what is in the “Ital Jockey,” the supreme concoction of the Uptown Juice Bar!


Gregor Altman is a longtime student and willing participant of explorations in exotic cultures and cuisines. He has gravitated to those which make use of hot spices and medicinal botanicals. Recent involvements include managing a natural food producer in New Mexico, and volunteering at a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm on Long Island, New York. He can be reached at