Koa Halpern doesn’t look like an activist. In fact, he looks and sounds like any other 12-year-old boy with rumpled hair and a toothy grin—until you mention fast food. “I never really liked it,” says the Denver seventh-grader, firing off a slew of statistics about the harmful impacts of the fast-food industry—like the fact that 55 square feet of rainforest are destroyed to make one quarter-pounder.

Halpern’s mission is simple: He wants to inspire others to avoid fast food. A little more than a year ago, he launched an organization called Fast Food Free (www.fastfoodfree.org) to educate the public—especially kids—about the consequences of fast-food consumption, beyond the familiar obesity rhetoric. He even “hired” four friends (ages 11 to 13) to join his team—a mini board of directors. This month, he’s asking people to sign up for “Spring into Healthy Eating,” a pledge to give up fast food for two weeks—an act that could save thousands of gallons of precious water. His next challenge is earning nonprofit status; he’s still too young to legally apply.

Convincing his peers that life could be good without the drive-thru wasn’t easy. “At first my friends were sort of becoming my enemies,” Halpern says. But between homework assignments from his virtual school, Colorado Connections Academy, he’s slowly winning over the skeptics: More than 150 people signed up for his inaugural “Fall Harvest Challenge,” and he hopes more will take the spring pledge. “It would make them healthier and help the environment,” he says. “It’s a win-win situation.”

This article was originally published in 5280 March 2010.
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.