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International Health Food Activist Weighs in on Local Childhood Food Insecurity

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega International Health Food Activist Weighs in on Local Childhood Food Insecurity
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While other kids were hankering for chicken nuggets and cheese pizza, Haile Thomas was eating lamb vindaloo. The 16-year-old superstar who’s been on several Food Network shows, the Today Show, and Dr. Oz, and was featured in publications like O Magazine, Teen Vogue and YES Magazine, brought her mission to Columbus on Monday, at the Godman Guild’s VIP luncheon.

There, Thomas injected fresher, younger ideas and perspectives into the way local leaders are addressing chronic hunger and malnourishment, drawing from her own experience helping her farther turn around a Type-2 Diabetes diagnosis.

Thomas’ journey into health advocacy first started when she was 8 years old. She decided to go vegetarian and challenged her parents to do the same. Her father’s diagnosis led to some research on the dietary and lifestyle changes that could be made to treat and even reverse the disease. Seeing firsthand the effects of different foods on the body, Thomas went on to educate others at health and wellness conferences across the country.

When she was 12 years old, Thomas made her mission official, launching the nonprofit Healthy, Active, Positive, Purposeful Youth (HAPPY) Organization to address the need for affordable nutritional and culinary education for other young people. As HAPPY’s executive director, Thomas has traveled all over the country and has impacted more than 8,000 young people. Now 16, she’s the youngest certified Nutrition Health Coach in the country.

Also present at the luncheon were community members and leaders who either affect or change policy, including representatives from local health and food organizations and City Councilmembers Priscilla Tyson and Michael Stinziano. Together, they all discussed current and potential methods to simultaneously provide access to healthy food for Columbus’ youth as well as educate them on how to make that food taste good.

Thomas commented that it’s one thing for there to be a salad bar, but what if the kids don’t know how to make a tasty salad combination? And, it’s one thing to provide fruits and vegetables, but “A piece of lettuce on a sandwich just doesn’t cut it,” she said.

Thomas suggested posting recommended combinations above salad bars, and making the act of cooking an engaging enough experience for students that they can take that enthusiasm back to their own guardians and make changes at home.

Others ideated about using community gardens to supply local corner stores with fresh produce. Low-income residents tend to live in food deserts, far from grocery stores and in close proximity to fast food and convenience marts. But, as one attendee remarked, even if the produce is there, it tends to be the most expensive thing in the store, regardless of how close that store is.

It’s an ongoing conversation, one that takes more time than an hour-long luncheon can provide. But, the conversation continues Tuesday night, October 10, at the Godman Guild Gala: The Guild’s Got Talent, where Thomas will be the keynote speaker.

The event will cover the common non-academic barriers that students face and the ways to nurture them physically and emotionally “to ensure they have the resources to pursue their talents and be successful.” It couples as a fundraiser for the Guild’s Stand Up! initiative, a year-round program dedicating each month to a different issue impacting central Ohio youth. October is for health and wellness.

Throughout the year they’ve covered mentoring, dental health, early learning, career options, and thriving newborns, among other themes. At the gala, guests will hear testimonials from former Guild clients and see performances by local youth. The start and end of the night will feature local band MojoFlo as entertainment. It’ll begin at 5:45 p.m. at The Bluestone on East Broad Street.

For more information on Haile Thomas, visit hailevthomas.com.

For more information about the Godman Guild Gala: The Guild’s Got Talent, visit eventbee.com.

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