Meet Dr. Maring
Preston Maring — a passion for good food
When he was 11, Preston Maring’s mother laid down the law. If you want breakfast, make it yourself. Ditto if you want a brown-bag lunch, kid.
It wasn’t that his parents were lazy or neglectful, and it wasn’t because they both worked. This was a simple lesson: To overcome obstacles and succeed in life, you’ve first got to learn how to take care of yourself.
Five years earlier, at age 6, Maring was accidentally shot in the left eye with a toy bow and arrow by a neighborhood prankster. The eye was permanently blinded, and Maring still wears dark glasses to protect himself from painful bright light.
Making pancakes and sandwiches might be an unusual way to cope with an injury that makes you look different from the other kids (his eye still wanders sometimes), or prevents you from playing football, your favorite sport. But maybe Mom was on to something.
Today, Maring is a physician and surgeon with 36 years of experience in obstetrics and gynecology, and an administrator who helped start an innovative neurosurgery unit for children. He’s also a skilled cook with a passion for food.
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but it wasn’t until my son was born [in 1980] that I got really serious about it,” Maring says. “That’s when I started vegetable gardening and double-digging [a soil preparation technique], and measuring the pH in the soil. That was my earliest glimmer of organic gardening. It gave me great pleasure to feed him stuff that I had grown.”
He wasn’t always so health conscious. When he was a kid, around the same time he started cooking, Maring also picked up another long-term habit: smoking.
“I remember sitting in an ice cream parlor, having a cigarette, and eating a sundae. All of a sudden I heard this knock on the window and there was my father outside the door, looking at me and gesturing, ‘Get out here.’ My mistake was taking one more drag on the cigarette and putting it out while he was watching. That didn’t go over very well. I was busted.” Still, he says, laughing, “I didn’t start smoking a whole pack a day until I was 13 years old.” He didn’t kick the habit until his 30s.
There were no doctors in his family, but Maring knew he wanted to be a physician early on, thanks to an ophthalmologist who treated him in the years after his injury.
“I remember many, many times going to that doctor’s office and seeing all the people in the waiting room. I remember how taken care of I felt when I would finally get to see the doctor. And that had an impression on me. While I wasn’t actively thinking about going into medicine in high school, I was always interested in biology and the sciences. It was just the germination of an idea that medicine might be an interesting career.”
Lately, Maring has turned his attention to the administrative side of medicine. First he helped establish a new pediatric neurosurgery unit, and then his interest in organic foods led him to create the Friday Fresh Farmer’s Market at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in May 2003. The weekly food fest was a hit, and dozens more Kaiser Permanente facilities have opened their own markets. Maring, meanwhile, has become a vocal advocate for using locally farmed, organic produce in the health care industry.
And most evenings he’s back in his own kitchen, experimenting with recipes ranging from spice-rubbed chicken with mustard-chive sauce to Baja seafood chowder.
“There are lots of foods I haven’t attempted yet,” he says. “I know nothing about making a good curry, or much about Middle Eastern foods, for instance. You never run out opportunities to try new kinds of food because you usually eat three times a day.”