Last summer, at a time when the news cycle traditionally slows to a crawl, sharks helpfully started nibbling on people off the coast of Long Island. No one was seriously injured, and the exhaustive local news coverage gave us something nonpolitical to gab about at pool parties and the like. But what are we supposed to talk about this January? “Any big holiday plans?” won’t work, the House GOP has stopped theatrically embarrassing itself (for the moment), and we’re only uncovering one to three new George Santos lies per day.
Enter the great gas-stove ban freak-out of 2023.
To be clear, Joe Biden is not plotting to go door-to-door, ripping gas stoves out of Americans’ kitchens. But some lawmakers are acting like he is, and suddenly none of us can stop debating the pros and cons of various cooking appliances. I think we need to savor this story, like a bowl of soup warmed over a noxious blue flame. Here’s why.
It’s stupid and low-stakes.
Stupid? Low-stakes? Aren’t we talking about children’s health and every American’s God-given right to prepare a perfectly seared steak in the privacy of their own home?
Well, sort of. But no one’s actually issuing a federal ban on gas stoves at the moment, we’ve known about the alleged health issues related to gas stoves for years, and most of us aren’t getting new appliances anytime soon.
The current dustup was fueled by a remark Richard Trumka Jr., a U.S. Consumer Product Safety commissioner, made about gas stoves in a Bloomberg News interview this week. “This is a hidden hazard,” Trumka said. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
The only specific action mentioned in the piece is the CPSC’s plan to “open public comment on hazards posed by gas stoves later this winter.” But no one had time to consider these details. Lawmakers were already preparing to fight — maybe to the death? — to keep Biden from seizing their stoves:
As tempers boiled online, some tried to turn down the temperature (all puns intended). CNN reported that while Trumka has seemed ready to declare war on gas stoves for some time, the other four members of the CPSC aren’t there yet. On Wednesday, CPSC chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric stated explicitly that the commission is not banning gas stoves:
Even the White House weighed in: A spokesperson said on Wednesday, “The president does not support banning gas stoves — and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is independent, is not banning gas stoves.”
While in recent years, some cities — including Berkeley, San Francisco, and New York City — have banned natural-gas hookups in new buildings over concerns about both greenhouse emissions and indoor-air quality, few at the federal level are arguing for such measures, as Josh Barro explained in his Substack newsletter:
Democrats in Congress who have issues with gas stoves have generally been pushing for new rules rather than bans: safety disclosures, and requirements about emission levels or ventilation that are designed to improve indoor air quality; such rules might add cost and therefore discourage gas stove installations at the margin, but they wouldn’t ban the products outright.
Could the broader safety debate eventually lead to policies that make it harder or even impossible to put a gas stove in your house? Yes. But unless you’re planning a move into a newly constructed building or your local government is currently considering a ban, there is no clear and present danger to your gas stove. This topic is getting unwarranted attention this week because it’s January, there isn’t much else going on, and it’s fun to argue.
It gives us a reason to chat about our cooking habits.
The debate over gas versus electric (and now induction) cooktops has been raging for decades, and people generally have strong opinions on how food should be prepared. That makes this the perfect watercooler conversation, even in offices where people haven’t gathered around a physical watercooler in years.
Thanks to this silly controversy, I now know that one of my co-workers regularly cooks with old-style French copper pots, while another subsists on takeout and rarely turns on their stove. And multiple colleagues are still downing Chipotle like they have no fear of death (or, more specifically, concerns about foodborne illnesses).
Stoves are less-than-ideal culture-war fodder. As one colleague observed, Republican politicians are constantly trying to plug something new into the “they’re coming for your ____” outrage machine; today, it’s gas stoves. Republican Congressman Bill Huizenga has even introduced the STOVE Act to block the “potential ban on gas stoves,” though several federal officials made it clear that’s not happening.
But while many of us have strong personal cooktop preferences — maybe because we grew up with electric, didn’t like the induction cooktop in our Airbnb, or were indoctrinated by the old marketing slogan “cooking with gas” — we often don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. We tend to use whatever came installed in our home, and in some areas there’s no natural-gas hookup. Despite Ron DeSantis’s best efforts, the evidence suggests gas stoves aren’t going to become the new MAGA hat.
It might help us actually learn something.
Even with all this debate, we haven’t reached a consensus on whether gas, electric, or induction cooktops are better. Part of the reason is that “better” is subjective. Do you mean which type is better for your quest to achieve wok hei, or better for the environment, or better for your kids’ health?
These are personal questions, and the answers can be complex. Scientists have been raising concerns about health and environmental risks posed by gas stoves for decades. As Bloomberg summarized, studies show they “emit air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter at levels the EPA and World Health Organization have said are unsafe and linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, cancer, and other health conditions.”
Does that mean we should all ditch our gas stoves immediately, cost and cooking preference be damned? That’s debatable. Wirecutter’s Liam McCabe recently concluded that while “it’s a more environmentally conscious move to ditch your gas stove when it breaks or when you’re renovating,” they make up only a small part of household energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions. “Chucking a gas range that works won’t make much of a positive impact on the environment or most people’s health,” McCabe wrote.
And while many electric-stove advocates are pointing to a new study that found more than 12 percent of current childhood asthma in the U.S. can be attributed to gas stoves, Emily Oster and others say that while indoor air pollution can certainly exacerbate respiratory issues, gas stoves may not be as big a culprit as the headlines suggest.
So the government should probably be exploring the issue, as the CPSC intends to do. And maybe we can all learn a thing or two about the hazards of indoor air pollution, the benefits of turning on a cheap box fan while you’re cooking, and the fact that Biden might actually buy you a new electric stove under the Inflation Reduction Act.
It lets me be smug about my induction range.
Did you know that with an induction cooktop — which looks like an electric range but relies on magnets — you can boil a quart of water in under two minutes? And it’s safer because the heat emanated from inside the pan, not from the cooktop? And it’s way easier to clean than a gas burner?
You would if you’d visited my house since fall 2021: I’ve been obnoxiously demonstrating these functions of my new Frigidaire oven and induction range for all of my guests.
In addition to being entertaining and informative, this week’s gas-stove ban hysteria has allowed me to evangelize for induction, a newer technology used only by about 3 percent of U.S. adults, more broadly. Induction ranges are simply the best; if you disagree, please feel free to continue distracting me from the winter doldrums with this delightful debate.
This piece was updated to include DeSantis’s gas stove apron tweet and the STOVE Act.
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