Jamaica, My Plant Based Paradise

By Ananda Lo. Photography By Deun Ivory. 

Plant-based eating while traveling is a journey within itself.  I’ve witnessed how accustomed many cultures have become to consuming meat, wheat, starch, dairy, and harsh chemicals. There are neighborhoods, internationally, that stretch for miles without any fresh food, let alone a vegan restaurant. But then, there are places that use fruits and vegetable to make food magic. These places inspire me; I call them my plant-based paradises.

While taking a four week workcation in Jamaica, I fell in love with the fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices that sent my body and heart on a transformative food experience. I’ll be honest; Jamaica has some very popular meat dishes: jerk chicken, curry goat, ox tails, and beef patties. But the island still showcases a delicious array of vegan delicacies. And Jamaican culture gave me deeper insight into the symbiotic connection between humans and plants.

Picture Jamaica—a small green and brown land mass full of mountains and beaches, surrounded by the enormous blue sea.  Jamaica is famous for its breathtaking landscape. Filled with freshwater ways and fertile ground, Jamaica has an amazing selection of wild fruit trees.  When I first arrived in the city of Ocho Rios, it was mango season, and mangoes were everywhere. There were mangoes in bags, mangoes in trees, mangoes on the ground, and mangoes in my mouth.  No knife, no bowl, no napkin; it was just me, my mouth, and the mangoes. I imagined myself a raw foodist in Jamaica—coconut jelly for breakfast and red bananas for a snack. Vendors sold fuzzy Ethiopian apples on the roads. The avocados and the soursop were just starting to ripen.  Only the fastest hands could pick the guava, so I always missed out. Starfruit tasted like small bursts of flavor, and it was delicious when blended and juiced. Young june plums reminded me of funny green apples. But Naseberry was my favorite snack because it tasted like a buttery desert. And then there was my obsession with breadfruit—a big green ball of fruit that you roast on an open fire. Then it would be sliced and fried. It tasted like a bready fried potato, but it grew on a tree.  

Of course, Jamaica isn’t the only fruit and vegetable kingdom, but Jamaica’s culinary creativity constantly gave my taste buds surprise after surprise.  My go-to in Jamaica was Ital food, which is prepared by the people of Rastafari (a pan-African spiritual practice). There was the staple rice and beans.  Then they served greens and vegetables: callaloo (a dark leafy green), cabbage, bok choy, okra, or sautéed mixed veggies. Chefs boiled green bananas, which tasted like potatoes but are much healthier. They boiled ground root vegetables: yams and potatoes. And ackee was also in season—a small yellow pod that grows in a tree. It is picked, cleaned, and boiled. Then it is stir-fried with tomatoes, scallions, thyme, and other veggies, salt fish (for the pescatarians). But,  I constantly craved fried plantains, so I started buying and frying them myself. While these were just a few of the traditional Jamaican recipes, there were also lots of creative innovation in the vegan community. And there were quite a few unique vegan restaurants and vendors. One of my favorites was Mi Hungry, a raw food restaurant in Ocho Rios and Kingston.  I watched a beautiful brother with locs prepare raw burgers filled with ackee, plantains, lettuce, and more juicy vegetables. I also enjoyed a raw pineapple pizza topped with cashew cheese, sundried tomatoes, raw ackee, avocado, and delicious herbs and spices. Heaven!

But perhaps my most powerful experience with the plants of Jamaica was understanding that food is truly medicine. As I travelled to Kingston, I rode through the Blue Mountains. These mountains were where the Maroons of Jamaica (Africans who escaped slavery) lived. In order to survive the wilderness they utilized the land, the water, the fruits, and the herbs as sacred healing for themselves.  I walked through the fields of Jamaica picking aloe vera, which is good for the skin and digestion. I drank bush teas made from fever grass, soursop, and moringa leaves. I cleansed my face with a plant called leaf of life. I washed my body with a bitter herb called cerasee.

In Jamaica, I felt connected to Mother Earth as I drank coconut water and wiped mango juice from my mouth. Every cup of bush tea and plate of vegan food reminded me that plants are God’s gift to us.  Jamaica, my plant-based paradise, reminded me that being vegan doesn’t have to be a chore; it truly was an exploratory adventure of the offerings that the land constantly and lovingly produces for us.

Ananda Lo is a scribe—a playwright, poet, essayist, teacher and producer. Ananda has taught and studied in Jamaica, Bermuda, Egypt, Cuba, and China. In 2012, due to a bout with depression, Ananda immersed herself in the world of meditation, yoga, and transformative spirit/energy work. Ananda recently released her first book, entitled SYNTHESIS, a meditative book of poetry and prose. As a result of her work in art, education, health, and business, Ananda recognizes that mental health, emotional stability, and spiritual centeredness are vital skills that are much needed in our personal and professional lives. More information is available at www.anandalotus.com