Ellen Franty started on her raw food diet three and a half years ago.
"I think one of the myths is that it's just for hippies or odd people," says the South Hills former nurse, who sought out a healthier lifestyle after her mother died of pancreatic cancer. "I'm a pretty conservative 48-year-old woman."
Interest in the diet, which is largely plant-based and touts the benefits of toxin-free unprocessed foods, has been growing in Pittsburgh, according to local holistic health practitioner Janet McKee. A meetup group, the Pittsburgh Raw Food Group, which she founded in 2005, has increased from five members meeting in her living room to a network of more than 600.
"At first, all my friends and family thought I was crazy," McKee says, of her decision to turn to the diet 15 years ago. "I think the name is radical. Really, all we're talking about is eating fresh fruits and fresh vegetables and seeds."
McKee recently released a documentary on the subject, which will be screened later this month at the University of Pittsburgh. The film, "Bethany's Story," features a 16-year-old Pittsburgh girl who spent three and a half years paralyzed after suffering rare side effects from a tetanus shot. She began to walk again within a few months of changing to a raw food diet.
It's not clear that the connection between the two is medically linked — the family's doctors declined to participate in the project — but the family presents their anecdotal experience from their living room, sharing the details of the original injury, the reaction to the shot, the resulting medical treatments and Bethany's discovery of the raw food movement.
"I didn't place that much value on food. I really didn't think it would do anything healing," says Bethany in the film, as she talks about searching for an alternative method that would just reduce the pain she was in.
Immediately after going on the diet, she says in the film, she began to get movement in her legs and within months she was walking with the help of braces and crutches.
"Within one or two weeks, I was just feeling good," she says.
The family, whose last name is not being released, declined through McKee to be interviewed.
McKee says the goal of the documentary is to help people understand the importance of the food they eat.
"We're hoping that people realize that there is a better way to live," she says.