Haile Thomas, CEO of HAPPY (Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth,) will be speaking at the Washington D.C. Food Tank Summit, “Cultivating the Next Generation of Young Food Leaders,” which will be held in partnership with George Washington University, World Resources Institute, the National Farmers Union, Future Farmers of America, and the National Young Farmers Coalition on February 28, 2018.
Thomas founded HAPPY when she was 12 years old to provide plant-based nutrition and culinary education to at-risk communities, schools, and camps. At 17 years old, she is the youngest Certified Integrative Health Coach in the United States and is an international speaker, health activist, and vegan food and lifestyle influencer. As Thomas watched her father reverse his type-2 diabetes through healthy eating and lifestyle choices, she was inspired to help others affected by conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity to make healthier decisions.
Since 2010, Thomas has engaged more than 15,000 kids and thousands of adults through different projects, programs, and initiatives geared towards motivating and educating people on healthy lifestyle choices. She has shared her story on the Today Show, Food Network, CNN, Dr. Oz, and has been featured in Teen Vogue, Fortune, O Magazine, Experience Life Magazine, and more.
Food Tank spoke with Thomas about her work engaging younger generations in the food system and inspiring them to make educated food choices that positively impact their health and their environment.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Haile Thomas (HT): I was originally inspired to join the health movement after my family successfully reversed my dad’s Type-2 Diabetes when I was about eight years old. The entire process of transforming our eating habits and lifestyle choices taught me so much about the food system, reading labels, eating seasonal and organic, and just how immensely important it is to consume nourishing foods. Most importantly, my journey with my dad exposed the very prevalent childhood obesity, malnutrition, and lack of food education crises we have in the United States and across the world.
Learning that my peers didn’t have the equal opportunity to control their health and futures due to lack of food and nutrition education was outrageous to me. I knew I had to do something to provide that opportunity to as many communities as possible.
FT: How are you helping to build a better food system?
HT: I’m helping to build a better food system by expanding young people’s awareness about the foods they put into their bodies, and what they support with their purchases. I help expand awareness through my small non-profit HAPPY. HAPPY provides programs, presentations, and summer camps in communities all around the world that educate, inspire, and empower youth to easily incorporate healthful choices into their lives. In the last five years, we’ve been fortunate to directly impact more than 15,000 young people through this work.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
HT: Aside from educating future generations about nutrition and food, I’d love to see food waste come to an end. The amount of food we are wasting in the United States alone is astronomical and extremely detrimental to humanity and our environment. There are so many simple ways to tackle this issue on a personal scale, and I believe it’s something that we can achieve with time, education, and increased awareness about the problem.
FT: What innovations in food and agriculture are you most excited about?
HT: I’m really excited about food technology, specifically plant science. As a vegan, seeing the development of plant-based proteins is super exciting. I think it’s an incredible field of study that could potentially shift how our global community eats and improves environmental health.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
HT: Eat more plants. Just one full day of eating vegan or plant-based meals results in significant environmental change. A individual can save more than 3,785 liters (1,000 gallons) of water, 30 square-feet of forests, about nine kilograms (20 pounds) of CO2, and about 20 kilograms (45 pounds) of grain in one day by eating vibrant, delicious, nourishing plant-powered meals. It is so beautiful that what we eat can make a direct impact on the world around us.
FT: What is the best opportunity for young or aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs to get a foothold in America’s agricultural future?
HT: The best opportunity for young entrepreneurs is to be bold and immerse themselves in the conversation and movement. Introduce yourself to those you look up to in the food community. Share your aspirations with people who can support you.
FT: How can we best stimulate young people’s curiosity about food and agriculture and encourage their participation in building healthier food systems?
HT: Stimulate the curiosity of young people by engaging them in interactive ways, such as cooking demos or hands-on projects. The easiest ways to captivate the attention of my generation is to make the topic fun and not as overwhelming as it may sometimes seem.
Tickets for the 2018 D.C. Food Tank Summit are selling out quickly! Join us in Washington D.C. on February 28th as we discuss cultivating the next generation of food leaders. Apply to attend HERE.