Haile Thomas, HAPPY Organization
As the daughter of two Jamaican parents growing up in Tuscon, Ariz., Haile Thomas was no stranger to foods that were packed with flavor. “I was never really satisfied with mac and cheese and chicken nuggets when I was younger–when I had things like curry, jerk and all of these amazing spices and flavors,” she said. But after her father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes when she was eight years old, Thomas’ family realized that their lifestyle would need to change.
“We weren’t really trying to sacrifice flavor. We were just trying to make sure that the ingredients were healthy and nutritious ones that we could apply the same flavors we love to,” Thomas said. By helping her family switch to a plant-based diet, that still included the seasonings that she grew up loving, Thomas successfully reversed her father’s diabetes without the aid of medications. “It only made me more passionate about wanting to spread this knowledge to kids,” she said.
Now, as founder and CEO of the HAPPY (Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth) Organization, Thomas hopes to help kids in underserved communities have access to nutrition and culinary education that is inexpensive and engaging. The now 16-year-old vegan chef has visited almost 8,000 students in schools all over the country and served on the advisory board of organizations including Chop Chop Magazine, the Hip Hop Public Health Organization and the Canyon Ranch Institute Life Enhancement Program. Thomas also helped develop Hyatt Hotel’s “For Kids-By Kids” menu as the Jr. Chef Advisor and shares her plant based recipes on her Youtube series “Plant-Powered Haile.” Thomas’ main goal is to show the communities around her that food can be healthy without compromising its taste. “I honestly never sugar coat things, pun intended,” she said.
Haile has continued to teach children how to make their own nutritious meals through camps, demonstrations and even online tutorials. “We’re letting them realize at a young age that their health is in their hands,” she said. More recently, Thomas became the youngest certified Integrative Nutrition Health coach to graduate from the Institution for Integrative Nutrition and is currently working on books and a TV show. “I respect the food industry so much because it has so many different facets,” she said. “I think it opens up so many different doors for people.”