NEW YORK — At 19, Haile Thomas has written a book that will flummox bookstore owners whenever they reopen.
“Living Lively” has several dozen vegan recipes, but it’s far more than a cookbook. It also has guidance on relationships and wellness.
Thomas calls it an “empowerment cookbook,” and the fact that it belongs on multiple bookshelves says something about how expansive this Gen Z member’s mind is.
“What pushed me to start working on this project was the possibility of combining both the self-growth and self-care aspect with recipes that meant so much to me and do good for our body, the planet, animals — all of those things,” she said.
Vegan for the past six years, Thomas offers 80 plant-based and gluten-free recipes, ranging from tandoori-spiced sweet potato tacos and key lime avocado mousse cups to creamy beet spaghetti with garlicky greens.
But before readers get to the yummy parts, Thomas outlines what she has learned in the wellness world. That includes advice on things like social media, education, overcoming societal biases and gratitude. She has distilled them into her “7 Points of Power”: Wellness; World Perspective; Media & Societal Influences; Thoughts & Spirituality; Education; Relationships; and Creativity & Giving.
“There’s probably hundreds of points of power, but these are really the seven that I feel capture so much of the human experience so we can really start that that self-growth work,” she said.
“Our well-being goes so far beyond what’s on our plate,” she said. “You can eat however many salads or smoothies you want but that’s not going to heal a lot of the inner and external disturbances that we might face.”
The writing is thoughtful, generous and fun, with Thomas prone to drop zippy lines like “If you know, you know,” “You’ve got this” and “Anyhooo.”
“Living Lively” also gets a little interactive with blank pages for readers to think about their lives and make action plans. And it includes interviews with five other female Gen Z leaders.
When Cassie Jones, an editorial director for publisher William Morrow, first met Thomas, she found a mature and grounded teen. “I thought she could be a major voice of her generation,” Jones said.
“I loved that she wanted to take this book beyond recipes for food into paradigms for living,” Jones added. “Ultimately we liked the idea that readers could come to the book where they are now and easily start with what they were most interested in, whether it’s food or personal growth or changing the world.”
Thomas is always on the lookout for different flavors and ingredients. On a trip to her parents’ native Jamaica two years ago, she flipped over the taste of breadfruit, star apples and mangoes there. She’s recently fallen in love with fonio, a West African grain.
She scoffs at those who say a vegan diet has to be bland. “The diversity of plant foods is just beyond our comprehension,” she said. “More than anything, I just want to redefine that and show that you can have an absolutely delicious meal that nourishes your body, that connects to the culture — all of those things are possible through plants.”
Thomas isn’t someone who uses guilt or pressure to get readers to cut out fish or meat products. Her motives are simply offering healthy and tasty options.
“I wanted the book to be an entry point for people to discover the power of plants,” she said. “It’s also redefining what our plates look like and what can be the star in the center of it.”
Thomas’ journey into nutrition — she graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition — was inspired by her father’s diagnosis with type 2 diabetes. She vowed to change her family’s dietary habits and improve her dad’s health. Then she decided to try to heal others.
“Change really starts within and with our individual connections to the Earth, to our food, to our bodies, to our minds and souls and then to each other,” she said.
While other authors have been fearful of putting out work during a global pandemic, Thomas is happy her book is out now.
“I’m just so grateful that it’s entering the world during this time, and I really hope that it just brings upliftment and joy and hope and really the opportunity to dive into who we are and how we can best contribute to our world.”