Cities try to phase out gas stoves, but cooks push back


Gas stoves are becoming a hot issue as U.S. cities plan to phase out natural gas hookups to homes and businesses to cut carbon emissions.

Many restaurant and home chefs prefer to cook on gas stoves, and persuading some to switch to electric stoves is proving a hard sell – a sentiment the natural gas industry has seized upon to rally opposition to the new local ordinances.

Several cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, have ceded ground on the issue by exempting stoves from natural gas bans, or by offering ways for restaurants to obtain waivers in an attempt to minimize backfire.

The decline of stoves demonstrates one of the challenges of reducing emissions from climate change: Consumers can be made to make personal sacrifices by giving up the things they use and enjoy in favor of less familiar technologies.

George Chen, executive chef and founder of China Live restaurant in San Francisco, expressed concern that cities are restricting a cooking technique that contributes to the texture and flavor of good Chinese food that he says cannot be performed on an electric stove.

“I respect the environment, drive an electric car, and am happy to pay the extra costs because the technology is good,” Chen said. “But to say that an electric stove is as good as a gas stove is to misunderstand the art of cooking.”

Proponents of electrification claim that today’s induction cookers, which use electromagnetic current to directly heat cookware, are much better than the electric cooktops of yesteryear and, once cooks have learned to use them, they are also superior to gas. But some restaurant industry groups and others have pushed back efforts to force them to make the switch.

When Berkeley, California became the first US city to ban natural gas connections to new homes and businesses two years ago, the California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit. He argued that the restriction would harm establishments that use fossil fuel to flame sear meat, charred vegetables and wok rice and noodles. A federal judge dismissed the challenge earlier this month; the restaurant group said it plans to appeal the decision.

Since then, several dozen other U.S. municipalities, including Denver and New York, have passed or proposed measures banning or limiting natural gas in new or significantly renovated buildings in the hope that it will help meet gas reduction targets. carbon emissions linked to climate change. . In turn, a number of states, including Texas and Georgia, have moved to prohibit local jurisdictions from adopting such bans before more cities can do so.

Local measures would require the installation of heat pumps and electrical appliances instead of furnaces, water heaters, ovens and gas stoves, which are currently the norm in most countries. Nationally, fossil fuels burned for electricity in businesses and homes account for 13% of annual carbon emissions, according to 2019 EPA data.

The contributions of gas stoves to emissions are negligible compared to the gas used to heat homes and water. Less than 3% of natural gas use in homes comes from cooking on gas stoves, according to a 2015 residential energy survey from the US Energy Information Administration.

An initial proposal for restrictions on new natural gas hookups in Brookline, Mass., Covered gas stoves, but these were eventually exempted. The city still needs state approval to enact its ban.

In practice, it made more sense to “tackle the big problems first,” said State Representative Tommy Vitolo, a Democrat who represents Brookline in the Massachusetts legislature. “For some, the cuisine is cathartic. For others, it is spiritual or cultural. It’s an important part of people’s everyday life, and they naturally have preferences, ”he said.

Shelby Starks, in apron, enjoys cooking with gas but is open to more sustainable food preparation practices.

When the San Francisco supervisory board unanimously voted to ban natural gas in new buildings last year, the measure included a waiver process that allowed flexibility for restaurants. Seattle building code updates that restricted natural gas in new buildings, passed unanimously by city council in February, contained a similar exclusion for gas stoves, an approach that was “considered preferable. to an outright ban, “said Kristin Brown, communications manager for the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment, in an email.

The city’s exclusions for gas cooking are not unreasonable, said Sara Baldwin, who works on building electrification for environmental policy firm Energy Innovation. But ultimately, she believes buildings will need to be fully electrified, including stoves, to meet ambitious emission reduction targets, posing an existential threat to the gas industry.

“The gas industry really wants to make the stove a problem and use it to animate people against electrification as a whole,” said Charlie Spatz, a researcher at the Climate Investigations Center, an environmental advocacy group. .

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Natural gas utilities and lobby groups like the American Gas Association have invested money in public relations campaigns defending stovetop cooking. The group paid lifestyle and wellness influencers on Instagram for stories about cooking with gas stoves, as Mother Jones magazine reported earlier.

A spokesperson for AGA said the sponsored posts are part of its #CookingWithGas campaign, which also includes videos posted on its website of professional chefs sharing recipes and explaining how they prefer to cook with natural gas.

“Americans love to cook with gas, so it’s understandable that misguided policymakers are trying to soften the blow of policies that phase out affordable, reliable and clean natural gas by exempting natural gas for cooking,” said the president of AGM Karen Harbert in an emailed statement.

While some restaurant industry groups have pushed back on gas bans, citing factors such as the higher costs of fully electric kitchens, some chefs say they see the potential benefits for the environment.

Shelby Starks believes the food will change “on a lot of different fronts.”

Shelby Starks, a personal chef based in Oakland, Calif., Said cooking with gas has been a big part of her craft for the 12 years she’s been serving food in the Bay Area. But she thinks the chefs will have to adapt.

“We will see food change on many different fronts, whether it’s the way we grow food or the way it is delivered,” she said. “Sustainable food preparation is the next frontier. “

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