The 'Now You're Cooking with Gas' Marketing Never Stops

The slogan used to be in the papers and cartoons; now it's on Instagram.

Old gas stove ad
Old gas stove ad.

American Gas Association 

We have been going on about the dangers and problems of cooking with natural gas for years, yet it seems to be almost impossible to separate people who cook a lot from their gas ranges. No matter that I keep writing stories like Piles of Peer-Reviewed Research Show How Bad Cooking With Gas Is for Your Health or Yet Another Study Concludes That Gas Stoves Are Really Bad for Kids' Health or New Study Confirms That Gas Stoves Are Bad for Your Health, it makes no difference. Even though professional chefs are dumping gas for induction ranges, I cannot convince my co-workers or even my wife that it's time to give up on natural gas.

Perhaps it's the endless marketing; decades ago the American Gas Association blanketed magazines and newspapers, extolling the virtues of cooking with gas. Now, according to Rebecca Leber in Mother Jones, they are dropping big money on Instagram influencers.

Since at least 2018, social media and wellness personalities have been hired to post more than 100 posts extolling the virtues of their stoves in sponsored posts. Documents from the fossil fuel watchdog Climate Investigations Center show that another trade group, the American Public Gas Association, intends to spend another $300,000 on its millennial-centric “Natural Gas Genius” campaign in 2020.

This is not a new phenomenon; the gas companies have been in the marketing business since the stuff was discovered. Even its name is marketing BS. People used to burn manufactured gas or town gas, made from coal – it wasn't until around the Second World War that pipeline networks could bring the more "natural" gas to cities across Europe and North America. The American Gas Association was hard at work even then. According to Jim Loboy of Nugget of Knowledge, the influencers of the day were busy, pushing the phrase "now you're cooking with gas."

An executive named Deke Houlgate worked for the American Gas Association in the 1930s and came up with the phrase. He knew some of Bob Hope’s writers and planted the phrase with them. Hope began to use it in his comedy routines on the radio. Another comedian, the great Jack Benny began to use it in the early 40s, we also hear it in a 1942 movie, and in a Daffy Duck cartoon in 1943. Daffy Duck, who is trapped in an oven says, “Say, now you’re cooking with gas."

People are trying to rename it still; the Trump administration and the Department of Energy are describing it as “molecules of U.S. freedom.” Brian Kahn of Gizmodo quotes a press release issued by Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes:

Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.

The Instagrammers aren't always showing best practices for cooking with gas either. Foodiemeetsworld up top has a fairly substantial commercial-style exhaust hood over her big gas range (but should be using the back burners, not the front; the hood is much more effective). Cookwithamber doesn't seem to have much of a hood at all, just one of those pop-up extractors at the rear of the stove that do almost nothing, having to draw fumes and steam down when they want to go up. But even that is better than what most people have or use; as I noted in a recent post, "Hoods are not appropriately sized or installed and fewer than 35% of California residents bother to even turn them on, mainly due to excessive noise. Many also have filters that are hard to remove and clean." That's why I have called them "the most screwed up, badly designed, inappropriately used appliance in your home." It gets tiresome; worrying about kitchen fans is exhausting.

Gas cookbook
No, gas is not good for young people. British Gas Association 

It's hard to know what to do to convince people that cooking with gas is not good for young people, but they have been trained from an early age. I still have a jingle from AM radio stuck in my head about how "natural gas, the modern fuel, does it better...naturally!" I've been completely ineffectual at convincing anyone I work or live with that they should change, including a co-worker who shall remain nameless, and who just put a fancy new gas range in her new kitchen after reading my complaints on TreeHugger for the last eight years.

IKEA Tillreda induction hob
IKEA Tillreda portable induction hob. IKEA

Perhaps the way to introduce induction cooking to people like my wife is to start small. She has been humoring me in my attempt to live a 1.5 degree lifestyle and expressed willingness to try cooking on an IKEA TILLREDA, an inexpensive, stand-alone induction cooktop. Perhaps this will do the trick, because if we want healthy homes, we have to ditch the gas stoves, and if we want a healthy planet, we have to electrify everything. And we all have to start somewhere.