Ital Eats

Plant-based power food from Jamaican vegan chef Ras Rody

Two months ago, while the rest of the world was on lockdown, Ras Rody was on his way from Florida to Santa Fe. In the midst of a pandemic, Ras Rody was bringing us a gift that we did not at all deserve: healthy, delicious, vegan Jamaican food. He'd already made food for decades in Negril, Jamaica, and the Tampa area, but he and his food truck are Santa Fe's now—and that is good news.

"People start to feel better when they eat my energy food," he tells SFR, noting that he's been cooking and eating exclusively plant-based for more than 40 years due to a kidney illness when he was a child. "When the new world came up with the vegan options, I was already there, because in Jamaica, from the early '20s, '30s, it was called 'ital food.' Ital is from the word vital, because there was no meat, nothing besides plant-based food."

Ras Rody says the so-called ital diet is an important one for the body, but also for the mind and spirit.

"My food is not just a simple food," he explains, "it's a spiritual roots food from the Rastafarian diaspora. So that's what we eat, keeps us healthy…and keeps us unique."

Each morning, Ras Rody concocts a juice with spirulina and greens picked fresh from his own garden. He then checks in with his tastebuds and reflects on his conversations with customers over the previous day to decide what goes on the menu at his truck. Items change regularly.

"What did people love? What did they keep talking about? Why did they come back? If I had made something yesterday, I make something unique today," he says. "Every day that I go on, it feels that I'm getting more inspiration to make more food. So my menus come different."

A few items anchor the menu: a juice ($5), a smoothie ($7), a soup ($6-$10), a combo platter ($12) and a dessert ($4). Prices can change, and some things might not be available every day. I tried the combo platter, which featured generous portions of crunchy steamed cabbage and carrots, black bean stew, curried lentils, brown rice, Jamaican-spiced vegetable protein, two small, dense banana pancakes and fried plantains. The variety and richness of flavors was something you'd expect from a three-course meal—there will be leftovers. Sipping the carrot-pineapple juice with my meal had me feeling the plant-based superpowers, or maybe just the euphoria of good nutrition.

Organic gardens don't usually accompany food trucks, but in Ras Rody's case it's a requirement. His son Benge Witter, who helps with the business, gave SFR a brief tour of vegetable rows tucked into the narrow margin between a parking lot and a concrete wall.

"He's a man of nature," Benge says about his dad. "Everywhere he settles down, he always has to grow a garden there. He's blessing the house or something."

Ras Rody isn't able to source all of his vegetables from his garden—it's only about two months old and a ways off from harvest—but with his son he's growing spinach, kale, chard, amaranth and garlic, some of which are already making it into the food (and that morning smoothie).

This idea that growing and cooking food should go hand-in-hand is about Rody's respect for his customers. He believes people deserve the freshest, healthiest food possible, and it's hard to beat the freshness of produce from 20 feet away—other restaurants should be taking notes—and so far, Santa Fe has been returning the love.

"It's one of the nicest communities I've been in for such a short time," Ras Rody says. "I have great people in this town who have known me for many years…I'm getting to know the neighbors now. It's not even tourist times yet, and I'm getting so many locals, it's a good reception. I like the feelings."

It's true that Santa Fe has a big community of enthusiastic vegans, but this food is for anyone with an appreciation for Caribbean flavors and a desire to get back in touch with what fresh food can be. For those looking to learn more about ital cuisine or Ras Rody's life story, he has a cookbook available for sale on his website (

"We the people of this world have to start to love Mother Nature…because she is the only one that is gonna decide our destiny," Ras Rody tells SFR. "If you want to live a healthy life, live happy and strong—eat less mucus! And eat more vegetables! Drink more vegetable juices! I believe in the Earth, I believe in nature and I think that we, the people of the world, are a beautiful nation of people. We have to treat each other as one."

Ras Rody's Jamaican Vegan Kitchen:
11 am-7 pm Tuesday-Saturday.
1312 Agua Fria St.,

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