Doctor’s Orders: Eat Your Greens Advises Preston Maring

by Sarah Henry on December 3, 2010 · 22 comments

in berkeley bites,farmers' markets,hospital food


Here’s a notion that hardly seems radical: Longtime Berkeley resident Dr. Preston Maring thinks physicians should prescribe healthy eating along with dispensing drugs to their patients.

Maring, associate physician-in-chief at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, believes doctors should also walk the walk about the preventive health benefits of sound nutrition.

He’s so committed to the good food cause he’s willing to show other medical professionals how to mince garlic and whip up vinaigrette from scratch for a home-made salad.

This doc has worked for Kaiser for almost four decades. During his tenure he’s delivered babies as an obstetrician, worked in hospital administration, and spearheaded the creation of its new pediatric neurosurgery unit.

But Maring, who learned to feed himself at a young age with a nudge from mom, may be best known for starting an organic farmers’ market at his hospital in 2003.

Since then, 35 markets have sprung up in Kaiser facilities in five states, serving employees, members, and the greater community.

A former W. K. Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Policy Fellow, Maring came late to food advocacy in his career. But he’s making up for lost time. He has worked to get more fresh, local food into Kaiser hospitals and forged ties with sustainable farmers, including the nonprofit Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), where he is on the board.

In October he hosted a Food for Health Forum for health professionals in San Francisco.

Improving food at Kaiser, which runs the largest nonprofit health care system in the country, has the potential to impact a lot of eaters. The provider and insurer has about 8 million members, 15,000 doctors, and 165,000 employees, mostly in the western states.

As reported on Lettuce Eat Kale previously, the Bay Area is a hot-bed for hospital food reform. Still, the good doctor knows that encouraging folks to eat better may be as big a challenge as improving hospital food.

He’s had some experience dealing with adversity: An accident when he was 6 left him blind in one eye, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a surgeon.

On the food front, the physician knows he’s fighting an uphill battle. Obesity rates are on the rise around the country, lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are skyrocketing, recent data suggests that most American barely eat any fruits and vegetables — let alone the recommended “five a day.”

But to Maring, who, along with his medical-student chef son, was the subject of a recent New York Times profile, this just means there’s work to be done.

To that end, the enthusiastic home cook shares recipes on his blog, offers kitchen wisdom in short Web videos, sends cooking tips via Twitter, and conducts a culinary road show of sorts, teaching new hospital employees basic cooking skills.

Maring, 65, lives with his wife near Berkeley’s Rose Garden and has called this city home for 40 years.

We spoke via phone the day before Maring hosted the recent Food for Health Forum.

Why this issue?

If people had a few key tools in the kitchen and some simple techniques to use them they’d be much more likely to eat better and be healthier.

What’s your public health message?

A couple of cutting boards, a sharp knife, and a salad spinner are the best public health tools we have.

Where do you shop for healthy food?

The Thursday Berkeley Farmers’ Market — I stand there and marvel at all the abundance. I know a lot of the farmers now, like Judith Redmond from Full Belly Farm. I have tremendous respect for what they do. Also Monterey Market, even though it’s a crazy, crowded jungle of people. There is so much good food. The place is bonkers and I love it.

Do you mostly eat in or out?

We tend to eat at home. My wife cooks, I do a little more in the kitchen. I make a little of everything. My son has taught me a lot of tricks but I’m basically a self-taught cook. I make my own pizza crust. I cook simple, seasonal fare like roasted chicken with a side of rainbow chard. There are lots of foods I haven’t attempted. You never run out of opportunities to try new kinds of food because you usually eat three times a day.

Where do you like to eat out?

When our son, who lives in New York, comes to visit we go to Sea Salt. It’s a bit of a ritual now. The restaurant is friendly and the food is tasty. You can get a big bowl of steaming mussels or squid with gigante beans. I love what they do with eggplant, they puree it and deep fry it.

Any local gourmet guilty pleasures?

I was a diehard Peet’s drinker for years. I was introduced to Blue Bottle Coffee at a farmers’ market. I’ve been having an illicit relationship with it ever since. When I go past Peet’s now I try to avert my eyes.

Are there any local food folks you admire?

Michael Pollan and Mollie Katzen, of course, both of whom I invited to speak at the Food for Health Forum.

Also Brenda Eskenazi from UC Berkeley for her research on the effects of pesticide exposure on farm workers and their children. Her work can really open people’s eyes to the true cost of pesticides. If people fully understood the health dangers associated with conventional farming they wouldn’t complain about the cost of organics.

Any final advice doctor?

My mantra is: If a guy like me can do it, you can do it.

[This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside.]

You might also like:

Hospital Food Gets a Makeover

Michael Pollan Talks Food Rules at Ferry Building

Fixing Hospital Food

Mollie Katzen: Get Cooking Author Dishes

Food for Health Forum: An Rx for Doctors

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

MyKidsEatSquid December 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

Fascinating interview. I’m with Dr. Maring. Talking about preventative medicine is so important. Thanks for this!

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Sarah Henry December 3, 2010 at 11:04 am

Agreed. It seems so obvious for docs to be dispensing healthy recipes along with prescription meds, and yet somehow we’ve gotten so far away from this notion.

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi December 3, 2010 at 11:03 am

An organic food market at a hospital? THAT is really putting your money where your mouth is. Fantastic.
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..Baby Honey Bees

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Sarah Henry December 3, 2010 at 11:05 am

You read that right, Melanie. And not just at Kaiser hospitals either: I’ve seen similar undertakings at other medical facilities, such as UCSF.

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Ruth Pennebaker December 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm

What an excellent, inspiring post. I love this guy.
Ruth Pennebaker´s last [type] ..She Comes On Like a Dream

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Sarah Henry December 3, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Thanks, Ruth. I think the medical profession could do with a whole army of Preston Maring’s promoting the preventive benefits of healthy eating. Anecodotally it sounds like things are starting to shift a little on this front.

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Sheryl December 3, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I truly hope this wonderful doctor is able to inspire other doctors to focus more on nutrition and take the time out to spread the word to their patients – so important. Good for him!

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Sarah Henry December 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm

In my experience, Sheryl, it’s the rare doc — like Daphne Miller — who talks nutrition with patients:
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2010/04/02/berkeley-bites-daphne-miller/

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Jennifer Margulis December 3, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Dr Preston is REALLY onto something. I couldn’t agree more! Except I’d like all docs to use nutrition as a first line of defense. If they could take 4 years of nutrition in med school and be courted by the organic farmers we’d live in a much healthier world!!
Jennifer Margulis´s last [type] ..Miracles All Around Us

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Sarah Henry December 3, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Well said, Jennifer. I’m wondering how many med students (or teaching docs) would agree?

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Casey@Good. Food. Stories. December 6, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Jennifer, wouldn’t that be amazing? I wish more doctors would prescribe salads instead of reaching for the Z-pack as a first line of defense.
Casey@Good. Food. Stories.´s last [type] ..Salted Caramel Hot Cocoa

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Stephanie - Wasabimon December 4, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Nice. I try to eat green smoothies to get more greens, but sometimes even those are tough to digest.
Stephanie – Wasabimon´s last [type] ..Vegan Truffle Recipe

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Sarah Henry December 6, 2010 at 9:36 am

Does that have anything to do with your gluten-free needs, Steph, or some other dietary-health concern? Regardless, I prefer to eat my greens, though my friends who juice greens swear it’s the best way to get all that’s good out of ‘em.

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Susan Johnston December 5, 2010 at 8:48 am

I love the idea of a farmers’ market at a hospital, and I’m impressed that Dr. Maring still managed to become a surgeon after losing sight in one of this eyes. Truly an inspirational figure.

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Sarah Henry December 6, 2010 at 9:37 am

I spent too much time around hospitals this year but the sight of farm fresh strawberries as I made my way in and out of the building made me happy.

Something soothing about seeing something fresh, living, and real in an otherwise sterile environment, I guess.

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John December 6, 2010 at 7:49 am

Wow, I have never heard of an organic farmers’ market at a hospital. Maring has got to be the first doctor to ever do something like that. I have been trying to get my wife to follow my lead and incorporate more vegetables and fruits into her diet.

Maring should definitely be trying to inspire other doctors to focus more on healthy eating than only giving out drugs to their patience. I really enjoyed the interview.

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Sarah Henry December 6, 2010 at 9:38 am

Thanks for chiming in here John, and kudos to you for encouraging your wife to eat more fruits and veggies.

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Nona Mills December 22, 2010 at 10:30 am

Thanks for chiming in here John, and kudos to you for encouraging your wife to eat more fruits and veggies.

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Ruthie Copeland December 24, 2010 at 2:16 am

Dr Preston is REALLY onto something. I couldn’t agree more! Except I’d like all docs to use nutrition as a first line of defense. If they could take 4 years of nutrition in med school and be courted by the organic farmers we’d live in a much healthier world!!

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