Q&A: Trending Toward Health

Renee McCormack, photographed in Dreesen's Kitchen on September 24th, 2019. Michael Heller photo

With a growing trend toward health and wellness in the food community, The Express Magazine took a moment to talk with Reneé McCormack, whose FOODfitness granola brand has struck a cord in markets across the East End.

You began your first food business, Bee Organic Juices & Smoothies, in 2000, before launching your latest brand, so clearly organics, nutrition and, well, food, have been a focus in your life for some time now. Where did your relationship with food originate and how has it evolved?

My relationship with food began as a child. My mother’s family is Sicilian and most memories I have of growing up revolve around food; Sundays were reserved for family and spaghetti and meatballs. I still use my grandmother’s recipe, with a healthier twist, like substituting the beef for chicken. My other grandmother, who was German, made everything from scratch. My siblings and I still reminisce about her doughnuts and homemade milkshakes; perhaps that was one of my influences for my first business line, Bee Organic Smoothies & Juices. In college, I spent free time experimenting in the kitchen — friends gathered at my place to taste test whatever I had to offer. After receiving a finance degree, I attended The Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. It was there that my affection for health-oriented food grew and my path to wellness was ignited.

What ultimately made you decide to pursue the creation of the FOODFitness brand?

I developed FOODFitness with a mindset that I would be able to pursue my passion, while promoting something I genuinely believe in. One of the greatest feelings is to receive feedback from people who enjoy my creations. It’s like an immediate affirmation that I am on the right path.

Your granola clusters have somewhat of a cult-like following. How did you develop your recipes? What are some of your favorite flavor combinations?

The entire FOODfitness line is organic, vegan and gluten-free. I recently added an oat free, nut free flavor that is mostly seed and coconut based. It’s more like a coconola than a granola. I enjoy eccentric foods that are health oriented, so I created each flavor with an ethnic spice or superfood that further differentiates the FOODfitness brand from other granolas. To capture my Italian roots, the Coconut Cranberry Cacao Nib has fennel seeds for a slight licorice infusion. The Raw Cacao Coconut Sap Maca has cardamom and nutmeg, which assimilates a chai flavor, which is one of my favorite teas. I added maca root powder for its hormone balancing effects and energy enhancement potential. For extra health benefits, The Sunflower Superseed Bee Pollen is also packed with a superfood punch. It’s made with three seaweed varieties and bee pollen granules, both of which are high in antioxidants and boost the immune system. Of course, it would require eating massive amounts of granola to notice a significant difference, but every little bit counts!

There is a general trend right now towards wellness, both in terms of physical exercise and nutrition. That road tends to be paved with many fad diets. As someone focused on nutrition, what is your advice for someone looking to redefine or redevelop their relationship with food?

My wellness message is spreading awareness about healthier lifestyle choices. It is essential to be empowered to make the right choices toward change. Every decision counts, but not any one will be the one that defines or defeats you  — consistency is key and that applies to diet or exercise. In addition, my message is to never give up on yourself and if you fall off track, get right back on again — discipline and confidence are everything. The mantra is healthier lives lead to happier lives.