Food is subjective, and everyone has their own ways of making the most common dishes. Every cook, from the humble home chef to a James Beard-winning master of haute cuisine, however, agrees on one immutable fact: there is no substitute for cooking with gas. Electricity doesn’t come close.
That is why banning natural gas in new construction is shaping up to be, strangely, one of the most divisive battles in the war on climate change.
NYC the Latest To Extinguish the Pilot Light
In December, the New York City Council banned natural gas hookups in all new buildings. New buildings under seven stories must comply by December 2023, and taller buildings face a 2027 deadline.
The new law essentially means that residents and businesses in these buildings will have to use electric appliances for heating and cooking.
While NYC’s move to ban gas brings the issue to the forefront, it is just the latest in a growing list of municipalities that have already done the same, from large cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Sacramento, to crunchy outposts like Berkeley, California.
In November, local lawmakers in Ithaca, New York, took the extra step of voting to electrify their city — including existing buildings — by 2030.
Climate Change Comes Into the Kitchen
The movement to ban natural gas rests on the belief that eliminating natural gas is one of the quickest ways cities can limit their greenhouse gas emissions. (We’re gonna leave the debate about what’s the best way to limit emissions to other blogs.) Environmental activists also argue that gas-burning appliances like stoves emit toxic gases that are acutely harmful to residents.
The debate is now pitting activists in these cities against the restaurant owners and chefs that many of these people likely patronize. The restaurant argument is mainly an artistic one, which is that using electric stoves makes it harder to sear meat, control temperature quickly, and other important tricks of the trade.
“You cannot cook with an electric wok,” said San Gabriel, California, Vice Mayor Chin Ho Liao. “You can cook with them, but it won’t taste good.”
The Gas Lobby Ignites
Restaurateurs and chefs have found common cause with an unlikely ally in the natural gas industry, which is worrying about preserving its market position for providing heat and cooked food in America’s homes and businesses.
As of summer 2021, 19 state legislatures passed bills banning municipalities from restricting the use of natural gas. The gas industry also launched a full-throated effort to burnish the reputation of “cooking with gas.”
What About Your Stove?
If you are worried about the loss of your precious flame for searing the perfect ribeye or charring and roasting some peppers, you probably are fine for now. Most gas ban ordinances focus on new construction only, meaning you still have a choice about what kind of stove you want in your kitchen.
In the meantime, you can read up on induction cooktops.
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