I Planned to Give Up My “Dangerous” Gas Stove. Then Texas Froze. | Slice Deli and Espresso Slice Deli and Espresso

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I Planned to Give Up My “Dangerous” Gas Stove. Then Texas Froze.

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Posted on: February 19, 2021
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I Planned to Give Up My “Dangerous” Gas Stove. Then Texas Froze.

2021 was the year that I was going to get rid of my gas stove. For a while now, my husband has been convinced that when I cook (which I do, often and at great length), the air in the house gets “thick,” and he feels sick. Late last year, I finally had to admit to myself that he might be right: When I spend two hours in the kitchen with the gas stove going, I don’t feel so great either. So I got an induction hot plate and an Instant Pot, added them to our countertop alongside our big toaster oven and electric kettle, practiced cooking like I live in an RV, and began keeping an eye out for sales on induction ranges. Last year was also the year when news sites across the internet began to publish great pieces arguing that we should phase gas stoves out of our lives. (Never before has an unpopular and annoying position held by my husband been so clearly supported by so much evidence presented by such fine journalists.) In 2020, Jonathan Mingle, Rebecca Leber, Sabrina Imbler, and Bill McKibben made clear and forceful arguments in Mother Jones, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, Undark, and in Slate: Gas stoves are bad for your health; they are bad for the climate; their gold-standard culinary reputation has been partially manufactured by shady PR firms employed by an industry determined to resist home cooks’ drift toward electrification. They should, in short, fade away, like the scent of butane on a cleansing breeze. However, in Texas … “Cooking is the number one way you’re polluting your home,” Shelly Miller, an environmental engineer who studies air quality, told Leber. We ran a piece in December of last year, by Mingle, that summarized the results of four decades of research: Stoves and furnaces that burn natural gas produce particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde, and can be connected to high rates of childhood asthma and elevated risk of heart attacks and other respiratory problems. Possibly, Mingle found, people who had been exposed to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (like what you get when you are around a gas stove day in and day out) are more susceptible to dying from COVID-19. Every piece on the topic has a sentence like this one, from Mingle’s: “Gas appliances can produce levels of air pollution inside homes that would be illegal outdoors in the United States.” (That problem can be surmounted with good ventilation, but the right exhaust hood is pricey and not required by building regulations, so almost nobody has one, least of all renters who move from place to place. An above-the-stove fan, like what we have, is basically useless.) And yet, down south … Gas cooking and heating is not just bad for you; it’s bad for everyone. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine in January of 2020, Philip J. Landrigan, Howard Frumkin, and Brita Lundberg summed it up: “Gas is associated with health and environmental hazards and reduced social welfare at every stage of its life cycle.” Emissions from buildings powered by oil and gas make up 12 percent of our national total every year, which is why cities across the United States are exploring policies discouraging gas hookups in new houses, and why a lot of climate hawks argue that we should be “electrifying everything.” Electricity has an increasing potential to become “clean,” as we transition to solar or wind, and an electric house can follow suit as the grid shifts over; a gas house will be stuck with gross old gas. Even so … As an avid home cook, with a father who’s also one, I learned early on that you have to have a gas stove (which is why I resisted my husband’s revelation for so long). But many professional chefs (as Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott found in a 2019 piece) are exploring the possibilities of transitioning to induction. Induction, I’ve found in the couple months of using my hot plate, is nifty: It feels more technical than gas, with the beep-beep of its digital keypad and its cold blue light, but I find I don’t mind. It’s easy to control, and it boils water very quickly. I haven’t bought a full range yet because they are not cheap, and part of me is still dithering. Why haven’t I made the leap? Because … Advocates of switching from gas—who, I must reiterate, are correct on so many points—have another hurdle to clear, and one that’s been thrown into frigid relief by the winter storm crisis currently gripping Texas and much of the American South and Midwest. They must address the indisputable fact that having a gas stove is a significant advantage in an emergency when the power is out. It’s one of the only choices a typical homeowner—someone who can’t afford to go off the grid with solar power (I wish) or have a whole-house generator—can make that will soften the blow of a power outage. While you shouldn’t try to heat your house with your gas stove when the power is out (that’s dangerous), just being able to cook—or boil water when water treatment plants fail (as they have in parts of Texas)—is a real blessing. Things should be done by the government, and could be done, so that such outages are less likely to happen. The grid should be made more resilient, infrastructure should be kept up (and should be better winterized), administrators should be better prepared for the increasing chaos of climate change–fueled weather events. But it feels like I have little control over any of that, right now, in the midst of a brutal winter. What I can do is keep my old, dirty, disgusting—and potentially clutch, in a crisis—gas stove. Someone, please (sincerely, I’m all ears!), tell me why I’m wrong.

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