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On Monday, Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, used the “B” word. “Any option is on the table,” Trumka Jr. said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
On its own, there is nothing objectionable about what Trumka Jr. said. The CPSC is a government agency that enforces recalls while also standardizing and banning the sale of products that are not safe to use. The problem for Trumka Jr. is he was talking about gas stoves. And some people get weird about cooking with gas.Although Trumka Jr. later clarified that CPSC doesn’t have the power to take anything away from anyone, only to regulate the sale of new products, the cat was out of the bag. Elected officials came out of the woodwork to decry the government overreach of unelected bureaucrats, a favorite talking point among Republicans and honorary Republican spirit brother Joe Manchin. The most striking—and viral—reaction naturally came from Texas, where Congressman Ronny Jackson seemingly took his thoughts on guns and ran a mental find-and-replace command: “I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove. If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!”
Another congressman, Mark Alford from Missouri, replied with an illustration of a gas flame with the caption “COME AND TAKE IT,” which may or may not be the new Republican Party slogan.
Trumka Jr’s remark may have been ill-considered given the predictable reaction, but it was inevitable the gas stove debate would emerge as a fully fledged culture war issue. It’s been simmering—sorry—for years, fueled—my apologies—by industry lobbyists as municipalities and states have flirted with or enacted future bans on gas hookups to new buildings. For those just now arming themselves for the gas stove culture wars, the battle lines are roughly as follows. On the one side, you have your traditional liberal do-gooders. The climate activists, the health-conscious, the public health and safety groups, and so on (the CPSC was created during the ur-liberal-do-gooder era of the 1970s consumer rights movement after, it turned out, to the shock and dismay of many, that corporations cannot be trusted to do what is in the public’s best interest). Their argument is that, after some 50 years of research, the science is increasingly clear that gas stoves use natural gas which emits several different kinds of toxic chemicals and particulates that are harmful not just to the people in the room breathing them but the planet as a whole. This is not dissimilar from the evolution of scientific understanding surrounding second-hand smoking. As a result, this movement seeks to ban gas hookups to new construction, which will rely on electricity, while creating incentives for existing buildings to convert to electric where it makes sense and people want to do so.
On the other side are folks like Jackson and Alford, the Cold Dead Hands cohort. Whether to own the libs, pursue some financial incentive, or out of a genuine affection for flames, these groups oppose the transition to all-electric cooktops. There have been dozens if not hundreds of articles in recent years about this. Many, but not all of them, come from right-leaning publications. Many of those articles also feature varying degrees of concern trolling about ethnic and cultural diversity, such as the National Review’s headline “Gas Stove Bans Are Starting to Look Racist,” because Korean BBQs and Indian restaurants use gas stoves and open flames to cook (which they will continue to be able to do, because, again, the bans only apply to new construction, a fact these articles rarely if ever state). But each of those stories has a key line about how gas has a kind of aesthetic or efficiency advantage. One representative line from a National Review story said: “Chefs value the efficiency, as well as the flavor, that comes with gas cooking."
My apartment has a gas stove. I have spent most of my life cooking with gas. But I’ve been using a portable induction cooktop as my primary cooking surface for more than a year. I plug it into a regular outlet and put it on my countertop next to the unused stove. I do this because—and I do not say this lightly—it is an objectively superior cooking experience if your values are making food efficiently that tastes good.Like most culture—and many actual—wars, the root of the conflict is a fundamental misunderstanding about what we’re actually arguing about. When most people think of “electric stoves,” they’re thinking of the ones that develop a red hue from heating coils. These have been around for a very long time and I completely agree that they suck ass. It fundamentally works the same way as gas, by having a heating mechanism get real hot whereby some of that heat also heats the pot and food and also anything else that happens to be close by. Fortunately, there is a far superior cooking method called induction. It also uses electricity but works in a completely different way. It uses magnetism to heat the cookware directly, creating little heat around the surface. This is super efficient and wastes very little energy heating things you don’t want to be heated. It also heats the cookware instantly and precisely. I can set the exact temperature I want the cookware to be set to. It also boils a pot of pasta in about half the time as my gas range. And when I’m done cooking, the surface is cool to the touch within minutes. The cooking area remains close to a normal temperature—unlike with gas where the flame will heat the surrounding area as much as the cookware itself—making the cooking experience much more pleasant, especially in the summer. And because the surface never gets very hot, spills don’t burn onto the cooking surface, making cleanup easier.Induction cooktops are far more efficient than gas. And any chef, barbeque expert, or meat smoking professional worth a damn will tell you that flavor doesn’t come from the flame. I blame Burger King, which used “flame broiled” as an early marketing gimmick, for this myth. I cannot repeat this enough: Chefs who actually try induction cooking like it!I felt no particular way about induction cooking before I got the portable cooktop. I bought it out of curiosity more than anything else. The only thing I feel about it now is confusion over why people love their gas stoves so much. Without fail, when I’m talking to someone who says they will never give up gas, I find they are completely unfamiliar with induction and are basing their opinion solely on the comparison with coil-style electric ranges. This is like declaring you will never buy an electric car because you drove a 1980 Commuta-Car once and it sucked.Now, it is true that induction cooktops are more expensive than gas or coil electric ranges for now. That is because they are newer. The price will go down over time, especially now that the federal government will subsidize a new one up to $840. But I am not naive. I know just because something is better doesn’t mean it will be without controversy. Few Americans have experience with induction cooktops. As gas hookup bans become more popular, the culture war fight over gas stoves will intensify because, if you squint hard enough and ignore as many salient facts as possible, it’s a story of big government intruding on people’s personal preferences. Nuanced differences like induction versus coil or bans on new construction versus retroactive do not resonate with the Cold Dead Hands crowd, who trade in slogans and absolutes. And it is a lucrative trade. They do well for themselves, because nobody likes being told what to do or even the appearance of being told what to do. We’re going to be hearing more concern trolling about how it is actually racist to ban gas stoves because it will kill Korean BBQ restaurants. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about how Democrats are coming for your gas stoves and your fundamental freedom to cook however you like.