Chandavkl’s Menuism article about another new threat to Chinese cuisine

I think David knows his food, but this is not a very thoughtful piece.

The restrictions on gas hookups aren’t just aimed at reducing emissions (which themselves are kind of a big problem that the piece fails to grapple with at all; instead it just seems to regard it as a foundational assumption that forgoing proper stir-frying would never be an acceptable price to pay to prevent the planet from also frying). Rather, another big reason to limit gas hookups is indoor air quality: gas stoves by their nature produce carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates that have measurably bad effects on human health. These effects are not purely theoretical: we know that millions of people in the developing world have their lives artificially shortened by the respiratory effects of outdoor air pollution, and gas stoves produce enough indoor air pollution to be above acceptable outdoor levels.
https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/energy-and-environment/2020/5/7/21247602/gas-stove-cooking-indoor-air-pollution-health-risks

As a home cook, I greatly prefer the control afforded by a gas range. But it would be nuts to argue that my convenience is more important than my own health and the health of virtually every ecosystem on the planet. Why does David think that protecting sharks and rhinoceroses is a worthy enough cause that it justifies his culture making some sacrifices, but protecting himself and the entire biosphere is not?

1 Like

The big issue is tradition vs. health. My take is there might be exceptions for restaurants, sort of like wood ovens, with good exhaust being required. But maybe not…then I can see the cultural arguments being used, like how wood ovens and BBQ pits are okay but woks aren’t. The science might be different however but I’d argue for an exception like wood ovens or BBQ pits. They might be “legacy” stuff however, only in existing buildings.

At home, health will be the rule. How the gas industry got gas in homes in the first place is kind of crazy. It doesn’t take a genius to know there’s off gassing it’s not good for you.

At home there might be some adjustments, like Kenji Alt-Lopez using a butane torch to help wok hei on a electric stove top. My guess is necessity will bring something. There are smart woks on the market, similar, along the lines of smart ovens, infrared, induction, enclosed, etc. Something that can get hot, including the sides. The key will be a reasonable price, easy use. Think Instapot like.

As for gas stoves over induction, many professionals say induction gives you way more control with added safety features like auto shut-off sensors. The wok is different, needs flames up the side and in the wok.

1 Like

My stated premise is that if gas cooking is not permitted, quality Chinese cuisine as we know it would be destroyed. Obviously that’s not entirely the case. For one thing propane, butane and probably other mediums would provide a suitable replacement medium. But is that something you would prefer? And of course, not every outstanding Chinese dish is cooked using high heat. But wok hei is a basic underpinning of Chinese cooking, and to a food based culture like the Chinese have, destroying a major element of this food culture is not a trivial matter, but which you seem to be trivializing. What if the discussion were not about Chinese food and wok hei, but rather the preparation of some dish universally adored by the American public? Maybe banning beef consumption because of methane gas created by herds of cattle? Don’t you think there would be outrage there?

I know that you’re not concerned with the effect on home cooking. I can understand that since we did not have a gas stove powerful enough to create true wok hei until just recently. However ever since we bought our new stove, I’m amazed at how delicious our home cooked Chinese food has become. The explosion of wok kitchens in newly developed residential communities in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas are proof of what a big deal this is to a large number of Chinese homebuyers. What the gas hookup ban means is that these consumers CANNOT BUY THE HOUSE THEY WOULD OTHERWISE WANT TO PURCHASE because of the unavailability of natural gas. While unintended, that is clearly discriminatory against Chinese food culture.

Since the arrival of Chinese in the United States in the mid-1850s, we have been subject to continuous discrimination in all facets of our life. (As an aside, did you know that a major portion of landmark civil rights litigation in the 19th century, dealing with school segregation, discriminatory enforcement of facially neutral laws, racial violence and citizenship rights, were brought by Chinese Americans? That’s how bad it was.) Indeed I’m old enough to have personal recollections of blatant discrimination against Chinese in housing and employment. So while to some, the effects of gas hookup bans on Chinese cuisine might seem to be an unfortunate, one off, unintended consequence to a particular ethnic group, to me it’s just another in an endless string of indignities suffered by Chinese Americans, magnified in the current climate of anti-Asian hate.

4 Likes

David, my family came to California as 49ers, in 1849. I understand the history of anti-Chinese hate and sentiment very well, personally and academically. My family experienced housing discrimination in SoCal…they simply wouldn’t’ sell my dad a house even as veteran with a security clearance making US bombs.

The bias is real and the anti-Asian hate is real. I live in Oakland now, so I’ve had an up close view of it. All this said, I think the science is clear; gas in the house is a real health issue, just like second hand smoke. I do think there could be bias in how the rules are applied, much like the “ducks hanging in the window” debate about Chinese delis….but the science is clear about gas in the home. Asian chef associations, restauranteurs and politicians should lobby for a wok exemption along cultural lines. I could see the same for BBQ pits and wood ovens.

In any case, I think restaurants will get an exemption but a lobbying effort will be needed. For homes, I don’t think that will be the case. However there is a work around: outdoor kitchens. I had an uncle who had a outdoor fish fry station because he fished regularly. Could have easily been a wok.

2 Likes

Relative to cataclysmic climate change and potentially massive effects on public health like millions of people having shortened lifespans due to indoor air pollution-caused COPD? Yes, guilty as charged. Destroying a major element of food culture might be trivial compared to those outcomes! At the very least, the possibility that it is trivial is likely enough that a better argument would at least explore the nuances of why the culinary juice is worth the public health squeeze.

Well if no new gas hookups solves climate change then and there, I’m on your side. But to me it’s just a spit in the ocean. I am glad you recognize a major element of food culture is at risk of destruction. That’s really the only point I’m trying to make.

5 Likes

These green rules tend to be academic exercises and made by people in the offices who have a myopic view of what the real world impact of the rules.

Case in point. New houses now need to be sealed so tight so little cool air/ heat dissipates from the house. Sounds pretty good in theory. Until the builders point out that in real world, air needs to come into the house from somewhere so the ventilation / hood fans can run.

So this rule sounds like its made by someone who looked at the gas CO2 generation data, compared it against the renewal electrical CO2 generation data and made a snap decision without thinking through the real world consequences (just like in the roast meat example).

With that said, often times policy makers make decisions by thinking through what is acceptable to the middle 80%. Now, if Chinese cooks at home lie in the ‘fringe’ 20%, to a policy maker, that may be a trade off they will go ahead and make, rightly and wrongly. But that’s the underlying problem. Should the minority have little say about the ‘acceptable’ standard defined by the majority, even if such standard makes little sense to the minority? Should there be more dialogues before instituting sweeping rules like that? If Alice Waters and her California cooking makes extensive use of gas stoves, I would not anticipate the Berkeley city council instituting such a rule.

I haven’t thought too much when they implemented that law. But i think if they are going to ban gas cooking, ban bbq, wood fire pizza ovens, outdoor camping stoves, indoor wood and gas fire places, gas water heaters, gas furnaces, gas powered vehicles. Make the pain equitable and make everyone contribute to the common good.

I am not well versed enough about ventilation, but wouldn’t a properly-sized and properly-installed hood solve a lot of the indoor air quality issue?

By the way, I am all for sensible regulations for the common good so I am not a deregulation zealot, in case my post above makes me seem like one.

3 Likes

I view the elimination of gas stoves in residential housing as a sensible regulation. An open gas flame is an improvement over wood or coal but it’s still burning inside of a building, and still not healthy.

As I understand it, the new law is only for NEW construction. I don’t know how it affects new restaurants or renovations. IF it includes new or renovated restaurants, I think some lobbying by restaurants, industry groups, for an exemption seems fair. The logic: wood burning ovens are allowed and I assume you can get most of gases out of a kitchen with restaurant grade exhaust.

On that note, I totally agree if gas is banned in restaurants it could kill off Chinese food…unless exemption can be had or a solution of new technology is developed. I think something with induction or infrared can be developed and combined with a flame that licks the edges like a wok. If the law is passed, you simply have to lobby for new laws or exemption.

Regulating decent exhaust in homes seems problematic because not every housing unit has venting to the exterior. Not a HVAC guy but I’d guess you’d need a rather large exhaust system to get hazardous gas out of the house. In any case, as I mentioned above, the work around for home woks is an outdoor kitchen. Not ideal but it could be like using a gas grill.

I wonder how they managed to pass that in San Jose, where there is a large Vietnamese population that presumably have a similar reliance on gas when cooking?

I suggest what we are seeing here is a lack of expertise. Political decisions without engineering input and without consideration of unintended consequences. The example of @sck is on point. If you seal a house or any other structure you need a mechanism for make-up air. In the jurisdictions I have bought property residential capacity is usually limited by sewage capacity. With sealed houses I’d like to hear from chemists, biologists, and medical experts about CO2 accumulation and other biologic products. We’ve been using regeneration (make up air coaxial with exhaust air) for centuries. Failure to consider consequences is a common component of politically-driven decision-making.

Houses are not too airtight but that’s the principle of passive houses which are much more common in Europe.

It also might help the pro-gas cooking cause if you include other cultures that use similar cooking techniques. Someone mentioned Vietnamese, but Thai food is equally frequently cooked with high BTU stoves.
I think it is a bit disingenuous to equate these environmental regulations with Chinese exclusion laws.
Energy should be spent pushing for exceptions in restaurants.
Also, the revolving stock of already built restaurants (and homes) is large enough that the impact on restaurateurs could be quite minimal. Though I might be missing a detail that prevents renovation?

I’d argue if similar or more harmful technology is allowed in some restaurants currently, like wood and coal ovens, so should gas and woks. If wood and coal are deemed environmentally safe and get an exemption, so should gas and woks in restaurants. Gas is cleaner and safer than wood or coal, which is why it was allowed in homes in the first place: as a replacement to more harmful cooking tech. I’d argue it’s also about adequate venting.

Within residential homes, I think the ban is an upgrade in environmental and health protection. After the crazy “orange sky” skies from the fires last year in NorCal, I bought an air cleaner with an air quality monitor and warning. I noticed when I cook, on a electric stove, like on a wok…the air quality monitor lights up to unhealthy, and that’s with a high output stove exhaust fan. I don’t know the science or reality but common sense suggests any heat source that produces smoke, isn’t healthy…seems reason to think an open flame running for 30 minutes isn’t healthy either.

Again: outdoor kitchens will help a few people with a work around. No way propane use with grills will be banned…so applied equally, gas woks outdoors won’t either.

1 Like

I don’t know the science …

may be of interest …

“coincidentally” … one of the leading Labs studying this type of thing is up the hill at LBL.

See e.g.

https://indoor.lbl.gov/homes

I think there is a “test kitchen” in Building 90. May be pictured here?
https://indoor.lbl.gov/capabilities-tools

Maybe Berkeley should deny parking permits to Porsches or other cars falling short of the CAFE standard.

1 Like

As a Taiwanese American who has cooked with a wok on a gas range at home and runs the energy efficiency rebate program in the Bay Area and have worked with Brett and his team at LBNL, I want to say I personally have thought a lot about this issue. There is a greenhouse gas component to this effort as gas is bad not just sat the point of use but also in leaks all along the distribution. But there is definitely an indoor air quality reason as combustion by-products like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and NOx gases often exceed one hour exposure limits when we use gas. This means kids who live in a home with a gas stove are 42% more likely to develop asthma. I am personally switching to induction and a dedicated induction wok hob that I can move outside where ventilation isn’t an issue because I have a 4 year old and 1 year old. I am also less worried about moving my wok hob inside during the winter because ventilation requirements are much less because there are no fumes to vent.

Commercially, there are very viable induction wok stations available, especially in Asia. Since induction heats the wok itself, it is actually more efficient and potentially more powerful. My organization works with a PG&E consultant that helps restaurants make these changes. I have also spoken to very accomplished chefs like Tu David Phu who uses induction woks already. There is a lot to do in terms of education and distribution but it is possible.

6 Likes

If you have any recommendations for home use (even if it’s a commercial hob used in a home setting) please let us know! I took a cursory look into this a few years ago and couldn’t find a good product and/or recommendation for a product so any advice would be very welcome!

This is what I’m looking to get: https://nuwavenow.com/NuWaveWok?ref_version=DIRECT

Amazon reviews have been good especially those who know to season their wok in the oven.

2 Likes

That’s perfect, thanks! If you have any followups once you do get it I would certainly welcome the feedback.

As I recall (again, years back) one of the issues I heard with induction cooking is the tendency to crack when lifting and landing pans on it. Do you have any concerns with that since this is for round bottomed woks that have a lot of tossing?

I’m glad an expert with the related cultural background showed up and posted. I mentioned induction and outdoor woks, and what I saw as common sense and got mild push back. Expert steps in and sets things straight. Thank you. Please keep us posted. The education part seems key and getting it to people into food makes lots of sense. Induction woks sounds promising.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold