Nfld. & Labrador

How plant-based eating is taking hold on the Burin Peninsula

A new documentary features rural Newfoundlanders who've turned their health around by adopting a plant-based diet.

Watch Plantify, a new documentary from Absolutely Canadian

Arjun and Shoba Rayapudi grow many of their own vegetables. (Sibelle Productions and Visionary Hag Productions)

A new documentary challenges the adage that Newfoundlanders are destined for bad health because they have bad genes.

Plantify: Changing Rural Newfoundland's Diet One Veggie at a Time tells the story of physicians Arjun and Shobha Rayapudi and their positive impact on the health of the Burn Peninsula.

The Rayapudis are well known in the area for promoting a plant-based diet and exercise. 

Martine Blue's documentary focuses on the couple, as well as residents like Jim Cluett, who has followed program and dropped 66 pounds. He even gained a new nickname: "Slim Jim." 

It took a lot of encouraging and persuading to convince Jim to do this. But he was at a breaking point.- Jessie Cluett

He now exercises daily, often walking 10 kilometres, and jokes he's going to join the St. Lawrence soccer team

His wife, Jessie, says it wasn't easy for Jim to give up meat, dairy and sugar. 

Jim Cluett has lost dozens of pounds since he started following a plant-based diet. (Sibelle Productions and Visionary Hag Productions)

Arjun Rayapudi, an Eastern Health surgeon, points out that he received very little nutritional education in medical school and struggled with his own weight until he began eating a plant-based diet. 

"I was working a lot and not doing well in my personal life and I happened to run into this grocer and he talked about cutting out meat and how it might affect the stress and energy levels," he said.  

"I didn't believe that but I was at a point in my life when I had nothing to lose, I'm going to try."

Could you go veggie? Watch Plantify, an Absolutely Canadian documentary by Martine Blue

He lost 55 pounds and felt more energized, and the experience convinced him to learn more about nutrition.

Linking nutrition to chronic illness

He and his wife, Shobha, an epidemiologist, developed a program called Gift of Health. As well as running workshops that provide group support and give cooking demonstrations, they educate people on the link between nutrition and chronic illnesses. 

The impact of their program is being felt on the Burin Peninsula, where grocery stores and restaurants like Wong's Palace and Smuggler's Cove now offer plant-based eating options.

Marie Letemplier, who runs a local catering company, says more people are ordering plant-based food. 

"Plant-based is quite different from what I was told at the cooking school. I want to keep it handy to the traditional Newfoundland food that we're used to," she said. 

This is Marie Letemplier's plant-based 'Newfoundland food.' (Sibelle Productions and Visionary Hag Productions)

Dr. Ghassan Ali of St. Lawrence lauds the Rayapudis for their enthusiasm for nutritional education and the positive impact they're having on the health of the Burin Peninsula.  

"I have a couple of patients, who I've been following through their chronic diseases, and suddenly their numbers are better," Ali said.  

"Their energy level and sleep is better and they lost some weight." 

The Rayapudis are physicians who work with patients to adopt healthier lifestyles. (Sibelle Productions and Visionary Hag Productions)

The Rayapudis are hoping to work with Memorial University's medical school in the future to educate medical students and interns.

Plantify: Changing Rural Newfoundland's Diet One Veggie at a Time airs on CBC Television on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. NT, and can now be found on the CBC Gem streaming service as an Absolutely Canadian documentary. Click on the player above to watch now. 

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