The matter of Rastafarian musicians having limited access to vegan food, or its lack thereof whilst on extensive overseas tours, was recently highlighted by Grammy-nominated Reggae artist Jesse Royal, who spoke of his own experiences.
The Lion Order artist, during an interview on Radio Jamaica’s Hotline, alluded to the fact that as an artist who normally maintains a healthy lifestyle and diet at home, he, at times, struggles to do so when on the road.
“I don’t get as much sleep as I should, and I don’t think I consume as often as I should because of my job… even a week ago we were on tour, and I am moving from Ohio to Virginia, to Chicago to New York, to New Hampshire, within a week. And if you know, a lot of these places it is not the most vegan-friendly and a lot of these places are inland. They not even have coast fi yuh guh get nuh seafood,” he explained.
“Suh a lot a times, the ‘live-up’ (Rastafarian moniker for diet), sometimes haffi get altered and yuh get end up a eat fries and bread and olive oil and Balsamic vinegar an dem ting deh,” he added.
Despite the shortcomings of not having his preferred types of food available during his overseas sojourns, the St James native said he understands that it comes with the territory and would not trade his job for anything.
“It rough, but these are the kind a things that make us tough. Some people don’t si dat side of touring or the entertainment industry, but a part a it, and I accept it. I am not complaining because I wouldn’t want another job in life. I appreciate the opportunity to sing what comes outta mi brain and sing on behalf of people who don’t have a voice,” he said.
“But yeah, definitely, (it is) something that concerns me. I get the more you get older the more you pay attention to your health…,” he added.
Years before Jesse Royal was born, Bob Marley, due to his Rastafarian religion and its strict eating rules, would take his own personal chefs with him on tour.
Marley had two official chefs who traveled with him at different stages of his career, the first being Michael “Mikey Dan” Whyte, who tended to the Gong’s culinary needs between 1973 and 1976.
Mikey Dan had noted in a 2021 interview that Bob, although not a vegan because he liked to eat fish, adhered to a diet that consisted mainly of vegetables, grains, fruit juices, nut shakes, Irish Moss blends and porridges, as well as broad bean ital with coconut milk, ‘rundung’ with vegetables, which enabled him his body to be “properly conditioned.”
Whyte was succeeded by Antonio “Gilly” Gilbert, who would cook for the One Love singer and his band while they were on tour and at home, and, after every stop whilst on tour, would prepare a post-show feast with peas, rice, and fried plantains as well as squeezed fresh juices, and mix drinks like limeade, ginger beer, and Irish Moss which was one of the Reggae icon’s favorites.
The Musicians Union in the United Kingdom, in an advisory to musicians on how they can maintain a healthy diet and “avoid the temptations of motorway services and takeaways”, whilst on tour, has pointed out that good nutrition is of critical importance as it is “the fuel that drives a successful touring band”.
Additionally, the Union says that despite borderline malnutrition being “practically a badge of honour in the music industry” for most of the 20th century, “a poor diet was just one strand of Rock music’s self-destructive aesthetic – enforced by the dismal motorway cafes that awaited touring bands of every stature”.
In order to eat healthily and avoid junk food, the Music Union said that the testimony of touring musicians suggests junk food is usually bought on impulse when there’s no other option. However, the organisation says that it pays to be prepared, by for example, getting a mini fridge or cool box to keep fruit, vegetables and salads fresh and stocking up in advance on healthy snacks such as unsalted nuts and seeds, fresh and dried fruit, and protein bars “to avoid giving in to temptation at service stations”.
The Music Union said vegans in particular, who have challenges with finding food on the road, could alleviate the problem by having a touring menu planned comprising plant-based food, which is “definitely best for improving focus and attention span”.