Learning self-care through food preparation is vitally essential, espouses a local wellness chef, farmer, cookbook creator, wife, mother of two daughters and someone born with rare, life-threatening ulcers in her intestines.
When Sugartree resident Mee McCormick then faced debilitating digestive disease as a young adult, she overcame her life challenge by becoming a wellness chef and inclusive food expert. For 20-plus years, she's researched and evolved recipes into delicious, gut-friendly equivalents.
"There's not one way to wellness. It works best to individualize food plans, and to keep altering the way we eat, according to our life stages and health conditions. We can enable food to help take care of ourselves," assures Mee, who relocated with her family to Sugartree during May 2023.
She says she adores the "secret gem of a community," starting with being gifted flowers, cheese straws and other welcoming items on her porch after arrival. "It's a special neighborhood, which is becoming a melting pot of established Southerners, traditions, progressive younger folks, art, architecture and young transplanted families. Everyone's sweet, and I love the mix of it all; Belle Meade and Green Hills is like a good food recipe."
Mee's grassroots reputation for promoting wellness through better food choices led her to be a guest TV chef on more than 60 different morning shows across the country. "Through the shows' audience reach, I found out there are a million Mees in the world, suffering from food-related health problems. I did segments about whole foods, and discovered the world was listening," she recalls.
She says at one point her autoimmune triggers and precarious dance with food left her really ill at only 98 pounds. "My doctors were afraid my ulcers were going to rupture, which would have killed me. I couldn't even survive a biopsy at that time. I ultimately got lucky by connecting with a master macrobiotic food counselor and Nashville chef, Virginia Harper, who taught me how to prepare food correctly for my digestive health on my own, using natural foods, whole grains, legumes and sea vegetables," she recalls.
For seven years, Mee owned and operated The Pinewood Kitchen & Mercantile in Pinewood, Tennessee. Her cooking was shaped by her culinary degree from The New School Of Cooking in Los Angeles, along with her vast studies of macrobiotic diets. She says while in culinary school, she learned tremendously helpful information about protein and fats, even though she couldn't taste what they prepared, given her personal celiac disease, Crohn's and rheumatoid arthritis.
"I learned to make ingredient substitutions without sacrificing flavor," she states.
Pinewood is an unincorporated town, just 50 minutes west of Nashville, along the scenic and winding Highway 48. Mee and her husband, Lee McCormick, transformed a circa 1920s general store/gas station into a comforting, nourishing eatery. The menu offered farm-fresh Southern food, infused with Mee’s healthful, hyper farm-to-table approach, with much of what food was served grown and raised by the McCormicks just down the road from the restaurant.
In the early 1990s, Lee and his stepfather, A.D. Davis (an original founder of Winn Dixie, “The Beef People” grocery chain), purchased Pinewood Farms. It then became a cattle ranch, humanely raising grass-fed and grass-finished livestock, as well as pasture- and wood-raised hogs and a 10-acre biodynamic vegetable farm
"Pinewood was a beautiful experience. I wanted to bring clean produce to Nashville. Many customers would bring me lists of what they could and could not eat, and I'd make them custom-made plates of food. During COVID, our business increased by 600 percent. I learned to look at food in a less judgmental way, and it changed me," says the woman who got inspired to get well with food.
However, after a series of major damaging floods, the McCormicks closed the restaurant and sold the main house on the property. Mee says they still have quarter horses, cattle, pigs, honey bees and wild mushrooms in the woods on their remaining property there.
"I hope to set up a kitchen on a portion of our Pinewood farmland and teach cooking classes there by this spring," she announces.
Mee also authored two cookbooks: My Kitchen Cure and My Pinewood Kitchen: A Southern Culinary Cure, and has a third one slated to publish during 2024: The JUICIE Bits.
She says her first self-published book was very successful and led to her current publishing deal with publishing house, HCI-Health Communications.
Mee's business endeavor for 2024 is a new chef consulting business regarding inclusive kitchen environments through which she'll guide individual clients and hospitality groups into new menus, beneficial grocery lists and kitchen set ups for successful health and personal journeys. In her own kitchen, Mee's been dedicated to cooking for the health and wellbeing of Lee, as he battles cancer.
"Kitchens are the hearts of our lives, and we'll be establishing how to create ones inclusive of everyone's dietary needs, meaning all dietary concerns are covered," she explains. "Together, we'll do the dance with food that we do, and tackle how to keep ourselves well. It's a wonderful way to regain a sense of empowerment."