Bad Stove, Bad Stove, Whatcha Gonna Do? Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For you?
Liberals and conservatives will both find things to hate about this post.
What began as a week of fun and frolic ended in chaos Friday as gas stove gate gripped the nation.
Since time immemorial humans have used heat to cook food. But what type of heat? For most of the moons that have crossed above man, burning wood was the main method of achieving this heat. Not the only way! At some point in the past, they found other things to burn. Charcoal! Whale oil! The bodies of their enemies! Over the many millennia preceding modernity, many Wikipedia pages worth of slow but consistent innovation in the cooking space came and went. By the twentieth century, we had wood-burning stoves that gave way to electric coil stoves that gave way to gas stoves. And at the dawn of the 21st century, a new type of electric stove called an induction stove began to make its way onto the scene. But 23 years into this millennium induction stoves are still a rarity. The two main types of stoves in America for the last 50 years have been electric coil stoves and gas stoves.
Electric coil stoves are not very good at cooking. But they are cheaper than gas stoves and don’t require a gas line. They are far and away the most common stoves in America.
Gas stoves are also pretty popular. And in a few states, like California, NY, and New Jersey, you’ll find them in a majority of kitchens.
In terms of quality of cooking it is generally understood that gas stoves, while costing more, are better than electric coil stoves, which is why 90% of professional chefs use gas ranges.
Induction stoves have not really caught on with professional chefs but consumer tests and science show that they are superior to gas stoves in some important ways that would appeal to the average home chef. They’re easier to clean and the heat is distributed evenly. They are however more expensive than gas stoves and for certain types of things they just don’t work. Some foods and cuisines need fire. And if you have an induction stove and want to prepare those foods in that way you’ll need some other way of doing it.
This is spicy stuff and it’s obvious why the stove issue, like slavery or the Vietnam war, has torn this country apart.
What’s that? It’s not obvious?
What do I have to hold your hand? Fine.
Gas stoves run on what’s called “gas.”
You get it now, don’t ya?
Gas, as in natural gas, you dig?
What is a group that doesn’t like natural gas?
You’re starting to get it now, aren’t you?
Natural gas is not well-liked by environmentalists who consider it an evil and contributing factor to climate change. There are some very liberal cities and townships in America where environmentalists have made a lot of headway in their local governments. Some—but not many, but some—of those places have passed local restrictions that are designed to reduce people’s use of gas. New York City is the largest (and only important) place where such a restriction has taken effect.
In New York City, new buildings cannot have gas hookups. If you move into a newly built building, you will have to have a stove that doesn’t run on gas. That means there are two choices: electric coil and induction. Since electric coil stoves are terrible and NYC real estate is extravagant it basically means you might end up with an induction stove. At the moment, this affects an incredibly small number of New Yorkers. But as time passes and buildings are replaced it will affect more and more.
Since the regulatory machinations here are not something that really affects a lot of people, the majority of the discourse about induction vs gas over the last few years has come from a small group of environmentalists trying to guilt and hector normies of all political persuasions into buying induction stoves voluntarily. This is a very niche thing that most people almost certainly didn’t even know was an issue.
I want to stress this: it was not a Democrat vs Republican issue. It was “a small group of liberals who love to moralize about consumer decisions” vs everyone else. Most of the country doesn’t have gas stoves. The few places where they are predominant are blue states. This doesn’t neatly fall along partisan lines.
But that all changed recently.
Because you see, though climate change was the main impetus for NYC’s adoption of that new construction ban, it is not the only argument against gas stoves.
There is also the fact that sometimes, you know, gas stoves explode. If you leave them on and then light up a cigarette you can go kablooey. Newer gas stoves often have things to prevent that from happening but they can still happen. And of course, the gas stove can leak. Gas leaks are bad! These are appliances made by man and they are imperfect and if your gas stove is leaking invisible poison gas into your kitchen, that has consequences for your health and your children’s health and your pets’ health. What are those health effects? Is it going to kill you?
Well, no, it’s probably not going to kill you.
An elevated risk of asthma is more the ballpark we’re talking about. You potentially could have an infinitesimally elevated chance of cancer. If you’re a New Yorker you probably jaywalk 15 times a day and that’s how you’re probably going to die. It’s many times less likely to hurt you in a meaningful way than jaywalking.
How much are these poison gas leaks happening? It’s sort of up for debate. But it’s definitely happening more than never. Is it happening enough to justify a regulatory interest in getting them out of kitchens? I’m sure some people did think that but it was not the reason for the NYC ban so not a ton of people thought it.
And then I looked, and behold a pale horse, and his rider’s name was Research, and Fear followed after him.
A couple of new studies came out in the last year or so that got a lot of news coverage and suggested that the health dangers from gas stoves were greater than had been previously believed. (We’re still not talking about death. We’re still well within the elevated risk of asthma ballpark.) But since poisoned children is a much more visceral fear than the abstract fear of contributing negligibly to global warming, a lot of people who had never given a shit about the induction versus gas debate started to give some shits.
This prompted an increase in liberals talking online about the dangers of gas stoves in their uniquely annoying and moralizing tone AND it also led some liberals in positions of nominal power, in their uniquely ham-fisted and tone-deaf way, to urge the federal government to consider a national regulatory scheme designed to kill gas stoves.
One person told Bloomberg earlier this week that the Feds were already considering a ban on gas stoves because of the health fears. (This person’s boss very quickly issued a statement saying this was not true.)
Then in an incredibly unhelpful fashion, the governor of New York stoked the fire by proposing an extreme version of the ban that would apply to the whole state.
These last developments politicized this issue along partisan lines and introduced it into the culture war. (Reminder: in the most conservative part of this country—the south—there are like 11 gas stoves outside of restaurants and they’re all owned by rich people who made their money by selling tobacco to toddlers.)
The conservatives at the top of the culture war pyramid scheme started to scream about all these gun-grabbing commies coming into your kitchen to take your gas stove! And conservatives further down the culture war pyramid scheme—who overwhelmingly don’t even own gas stoves—did what they’re supposed to do which is freak out about this issue they’d probably never thought about once since it’s only ever been argued about in The Nation and Mother Jones.
Because negative partisanship is a helluva drug, this prompted a much larger group of normie liberals, who even after the recent research about the health dangers of gas stoves didn’t care, to care very much about this issue.
It also of course terrified democratic politicians in DC (who don’t want to fight about this for fear that it is a losing issue politically) to come out and make clear that there will be no ban on gas stoves nationally and that it is not something being considered. This accomplished nothing because 1) the theoretical ban, like the one in NYC, would never actually have been about forcing people to buy new stoves. It would have been about forcing them into new constructions. If you had a gas stove, you could keep it. 2) The person suggesting such a ban be considered nationally was sharing a view that was not widely held by other Democrats. 3) This is all about vibes and ideas and so disclaiming intentions to introduce bans nationwide do nothing to assuage people who don’t trust you and will remain suspicious that if you somehow gain enough power you will indeed force such a ban.
So by Thursday, you had a huge number of people deeply invested in this issue screaming at each other just for kicks. A month ago none of these people even knew anything about this niche fight about stoves that most of them don’t even own.
Got that? OK.
It’s time to arm yourself and pick a side.
Bang bang, motherfucker. It’s wartime.
Let’s put a pin in this culture war storyline for a second and talk about the gas stove vs induction stove debate itself. If you don’t care about the substance of this fight and would rather skip to the part where I am very mean to some people involved in this fight, I won’t blame you.