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The Racism of Natural Gas Bans
Yep, we're going there.
The Convoy Pan Asian Cultural and Business Innovation District is an area in the Kearney Mesa neighborhood in San Diego. Based largely off the area’s main north-south street Convoy St. spurs out onto two other major roads and a web of side streets, the area is home to dozens of the city’s well known Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese-owed businesses including grocery stores, medical services, and of course, restaurants. From the late 1970s until now, the Kearney Mesa neighborhood has been a hub for both East and Southeast Asian immigrants seeking a better life in the US but also a hub for their children and children’s children.
There, one can dine on phenomenal sushi (sushi chefs in Japan often comment about the quality of the tuna and sea urchin found off San Diego’s waters), ramen, hot pot, Korean BBQ, stir frys, and pho for starters. These restaurants serve as hub for members of these communities often filled with families and friends, they host meetup groups for those interested in these cultures and languages, and they serve as places of employment for hundreds of people - often family members or those whose English skills may not be up to speed for other jobs but work well in these areas. For those who are not members of these communities, they can find authentic food from the other side of the world served by staff who are more than glad to share their cultural heritage.
The San Diego Tourism Authority have even taken to marketing the area to tourists.
There’s a common saying that goes something like this: 90% of restaurants fail in their first year of operation. Apparently that figure is incorrect (details and context here) but needless to say, the saying is typically used to confer in the sheer difficulty in starting and running a restaurant. How hard can it really be to order and cook food, serve it to customers, clean up after them, make payroll and expenses and take home a bit of profit? Surprisingly difficult.
Restaurants require a remarkable amount of capital to start too. Often provided via loans. -which make things even more difficult for owners and operators should their business fail. This capital is used to either build or rent a space, which by most zoning and land use regulations, it must be intended for serving food (in the US at least, running a restaurant out of one’s kitchen in their home with a few plastic table and chairs in the front lawn is usually a major “no no.” ). This location also must be in an area which will see customers. The equipment needed is often highly specialized and also expensive. Codes and regulations vary among jurisdiction but typically a building not up to the requirements set by these codes and regulations must be retrofit - adding further to the costs. This is all already a lot to handle in English, even with a vague familiarity with out to navigate and follow the bureaucratic maze. But imagine being a first-generation immigrant with little to no English abilities, unfamiliar with the bureaucratic maze trying to get a restaurant off the ground to keep one running?
Then once a restaurant is up and running - that is - when staff are hired and trained, and customers trickle in, there are remarkable amount of other things that must fall into place for success. Some of this is largely management and a staff that’s both able to do perform their jobs, and are dependable and reliable. Some of this is also whether the products purchased to make the food are available, are delivered on time, and are not spoiled. Customer demand too is also key.
And there’s the equipment, the maintenance and upkeep costs and unfortunate replacements whether that be due to wear and tear or new regulations. Most restaurants have at least one or two pieces of equipment that generate heat to either directly or indirectly cook food or to heat water.
Most of this equipment uses natural gas as that heat source1.
What’s this all about again? Trust Us, We’re (not) Lying
The Corporate Press - primarily the ones we bash all the time here (the energy and economically illiterate ones) believed they were platforming ever important Science™ by not only repeating the findings but often misinterpreting them with the narrative that gas cooking stoves give children asthma. The Science™ was an incredibly flawed meta-study conducted by environmental activists who didn’t even bother to setup an actual experiment themselves.
Then, a Bureaucrat at the Federal Government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission stepped in suggesting a nationwide ban might be in order. The Corporate Press droned on with “fact check” type articles insisting, that “no, the gub’mint isn’t gonna come to your home and take your stove” and that “gas stoves do cause asthma, see the The Science™ says so.” Also, “why do you backwards red-staters hate children and the planet?”
Over the course of the week, a small yet vocal about of counter-pieces were generated - largely not by the Corporate Press, of course - but by people with working bullshit detectors. Among that list are those we mentioned in our last piece (to toot our own horn), “Let’s Go Ban It,” then's "Calls to ban gas stoves are anti-science, anti-freedom, and anti-energy" and 's "The Gas Stove Asthma Lie." Not only did the Corporate Press double down on turning this into an "us versus them" and “left versus right issue” but they also did not correct or issue new pieces covering the debunking of this particular study.
The choir of nonsense they pushed out within the past week to those unfamiliar with's book “Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another”, Ryan Holiday’s hit book “Trust Me I’m Lying” or even Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent.“
How does this relate to restaurants? The rumors of a national ban and the Science™ that launched this past week’s Current Thing emphasized residential stoves as did much of the backlash. But rest assured, this is eventually coming for restaurants.
Beware of the slippery slope fallacy, some might write in the comments, and we largely agree in principle. Well my friends, the slippery slope here is likely to be less of a logical fallacy and more of something coming down the pipe. Especially since this has gone tribal, and both “the children” and the Planet have been propped as reasons for the proponent’s moral superiority and Science™.
Natural gas bans already exist in certain parts of the country too. So far, they’re composed of one of four options:
(A) - A ban on natural gas fixtures in new construction - typically from local governments changing their building codes. (Examples: Berkeley, San Francisco, New York City)
(B) - A ban on the sales of natural gas appliances after a certain date.
(C) - Some combination of (A) and (B) (Example: State of CA - all new buildings constructed from 2023 shall not have natural gas appliances, and by 2030 the sales of natural gas appliances shall be prohibited)
These bans may or may not include commercial (and industrial - that’s a whole other can of worms) properties. The devil is always in the details!
While the bureaucrats, and activists who create these bans are typically highly unaware of how the world works, they do seem to have been clever enough to realize that natural gas is used in both residential and commercial buildings and that stoves are not the only gas-powered appliance (they already won’t STFU about heat pumps). Therefore it’s not entirely unreasonable to believe that even the most “mellow” bans (A) may eventually morph into stricter bans (D). The stricter bans also have incorporated bans in both residential and commercial buildings. Bureaucrats and activists are likely unaware of the industrial uses of natural gas so we won’t go there. But commercial buildings includes one key industry: restaurants.
There is no “one size fits all” policy
Nearly every restaurant has multiple gas appliances.
Grills, griddles, ranges, ovens, fryers, char-broilers, and even water heaters.
Nearly restaurant owner from an elite top-chef of a Michelin Restaurant to the owner of a fast food franchise will attest to this as well as to their superiority to nearly anything electric. Restaurant owners aren’t being snobs or and aren’t apologists for BiG GaS when they argue for the use of gas appliances either. They are experts2 at what they’re doing. Most chefs argue that cooking with natural gas is faster and the ability to easily and quickly change the heat is essential to their recipes, and they’re cheap to operate, easy to repair and replace. Gas fryers and ovens are efficient and cheap to operate. Water heaters too, whether they’re tanked or tankless.
Large commercial electric appliances that could replace gas are not on the market and even if they were they’d require vast amounts of electricity to operate anyways. Electrical upgrades both in the building and potentially even the electrical distribution system would be required to allow for these loads. The costs in the building and the electrical service drop from the pole or transformer would likely fall on the property owner and costs to upgrade further upstream in the distribution system would be passed on to everybody else in the form of higher rates. Never mind gas is relatively cheap to use and that the electrical grid is becoming increasingly less reliable. California has some of the most expensive electricity rates in the country already.
That’s not to say that there isn’t right now or not a place in the future for electric appliances. Single or double burner induction ranges and convection ovens do exist but removing the option for restaurant owners and operators to use a wide variety of cooking equipment simply because they use a fuel source deemed evil for children or the planet is absurd.
The President of the California Restaurant Association said in general of such bans and legally-mandated transitions when responding LA’s 2022 ban on gas (which so far to be clear only applies to new residential construction):
“With the sheer number of restaurants in L.A., this will have a massive impact on the future of the restaurant industry and how many diverse cuisines are offered.”
When the California Restaurant Association tried to sue the City of Berkeley over their 2019 ban, part of their argument lied on the argument that many restaurants:
“rely on gas for cooking particular types of food, whether it be flame-seared meats, charred vegetables, or the use of intense heat from a flame under a wok,” and that restaurant owners subject to the new regulations on their business “will be unable to prepare many of their specialties without natural gas and will lose speed and control over the manner and flavor of food preparation.”
“Flame is critical for [chefs] to create their masterpieces,” said Condie of the association members. “It’s like asking an artist to throw away all their small paintbrushes and start painting with a roller.”
These bans smell of the typical anointed-vision central planning fiat mentality. That is - Noble Technocrats with no experience other than telling others what to do insist they know best for everyone else. They love to engage in emotional abuse tactics such as weaponizing children or the planet not to mention always overdosing on hysteria.
The Racism of the Bans
The mandated conversion of these businesses away from gas appliances sits somewhere on the spectrum between excessively expensive enough to render business operations difficult or impossible, and just plain impossible to do anyways.
Let’s have a look at what many Asian restaurants the San Diego’s atrocious legally-binding Climate Action Plan seek to lose.
Perhaps the most famous is wok hei in Cantonese cuisine, which is often translated to “wok’s breath.” Wok hei requires (obviously) the use of a wok seasoned with some sort of oil or animal fat, and food cooked in a wok is often done quickly and at extremely high temperatures.
A Michelin Guide Digital-Hong Kong Macau describes the process in a most mouthwatering way:
The basis of wok hei is the smoky flavour resulting from caramelisation of sugars, maillard reactions, and smoking of oil — all at temperatures well in excess of traditional western cooking techniques. When individual food pieces or grains of rice are tossed about in this inferno, the searing heat blasts away excess moisture, drying out the surface of the food for maximum caramelisation. The patina of a seasoned wok is made up of polymerised fats, which impart even more charred wok hei aroma during the cooking process.
The piece closes with a unique anecdote:
“I tried to recreate my favourite hawker’s beef hor fun (links to article about Singapore noodles) by frying it on my induction stove at home, but it didn’t have any wok hei at all.”
Leo and Lydia Lee, who own a Cantonese BBQ restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles said of the wok in general (emphasis ours)
“The wok itself is really essential to Asian cuisine. By taking gas away, you’re telling us we cannot use woks anymore, essentially taking away our identity and heritage. It forces us to adapt to American culture.”
Then there’s Teppanyaki, a traditional grilling method from Japan, which uses large griddle-like cooking surfaces. Teppanyaki chefs insist on a grilling surface that heats up quickly and evenly which gas Teppanyaki excel at doing due to even flame distribution. (Some use propane instead of natural gas but the idea is still the same) While electric Teppanyaki grills do exist, their downsides are that they contain one heating element for the whole resulting in an unevenly heated surface and that a large electric griddle for restaurant use is incredibly expensive to operate. Many Japanese restaurants in the US which market themselves as sushi restaurants also serve these grilled dishes.
There is of course, Korean BBQ. Traditional Korean BBQ relied on charcoal but now use gas due to the clean-burning characteristics. Small scale (at home) electric units do exist but we couldn’t find any suitable for restaurants. The server manually lighting the grill themselves in front of the diners and the unique flavors from the flames cooking the thinly-sliced meats and vegetables are difficult to match on anything electric anyways. Japanese cuisine has a similar BBQ technique and culture adopted from the Korean techniques too.
In an LA Times Column discussing that city’s natural gas ban passed in mid 2022 Ryan Park was quoted specifically for his commentary on Korean BBQ, stating (emphasis again, ours):
“The tabletop gas grill is an important part of our Korean food culture. It’s connected to the taste of the food and how we grill the meat.”
At Chengdu Taste in Alhambra, one of the city’s most lauded Sichuan restaurants, managing partner Sean Xie said everything from the fried rice, to the fiery stir-fried eggplant and the kung pao chicken, is prepared using high heat on gas-powered equipment.
The piece also included commentary from Sean Xie, one of the managing partners of a Sichuan restaurant in the city.
…Sean Xie said everything from the fried rice, to the fiery stir-fried eggplant and the kung pao chicken, is prepared using high heat on gas-powered equipment.
“There is no substitute if you ban gas equipment,” Xie said. “For Chinese cuisine, we use a technique called stir-frying and the temperature is key.”
Many of the dishes at Chengdu Taste require a jolt of heat to caramelize and sear the surface of the meats, vegetables and seafood; something Xie said can only be achieved by cranking up the heat and getting to a certain temperature, quickly.
“Electricity just doesn’t get to that high temperature in a short period of time, and that’s associated with the flavor of the food,” he said.
Our Climate, Our Future, Our Racism
Despite the City of San Diego Climate Action Plan’s upcoming strict ban on both new residential and commercial buildings plus a mandated retrofit of most existing buildings by 2035, the local Corporate Press and even those who regularly chatter about these issues, seem silent about the issue that members of certain communities will be required to put aside their cultural heritage and either:
Doing nothing and facing any potential consequences such as fines, bureaucrats holding their business licenses hostage, etc.
Comply by retrofitting their operations and business to all-electric and by changing their signature dishes and cooking methods.
Move their business to another jurisdiction where such regulations are not imposed. This is likely to not happen in CA. (Tijuana is already an up-and-coming fine dining city)
Any entrepreneur wanting to capitalize on their heritage cooking and dishes that rely heavily on gas cooking and who wish to start a new restaurant will likely face uphill challenges that differ from incumbent restaurant owners. Good policy is backed either by solid arguments and/or sufficient scientific evidence, not Science™ by activist groups, public health authoritarian frauds, and Fiat Academics.
This isn’t the first or last time such a policy has resulted in certain groups being disproportionally marginalized either in the past or in the present and/or with a racially charged intent or not.
The giant elephants in the room, of course, are pre-Civil Rights era policies such as red-lining and Jim Crow laws. Between Social and Racial Justice advocates and Libertarians for example, there much overlap over the downstream effects of the War on Drugs (including menthol bans3 and high tobacco taxes, Civil Asset Forfeiture) and occupational licensing laws leading to the persecution of Black hairdressers. Then there's of course gun control laws, a pride and joy of "progressive" places such as CA and NY.writes an excellent piece about this. And with tomorrow being a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a deep dive into why he wasn't allowed to carry to protect himself may be in order too.
The San Diego-area Corporate Press4 have been all over covering the story of repealing so-called “cruising bans” which were enacted allegedly to protect the safety of the public but disproportionally targeted Chicano low-rider drivers who've, like the many Asian cooks above, argue it's a part of their heritage and that the downsides of their activities are either misunderstood or exaggerated. The political class in Southern California contains a lot of folks focused on getting people out of cars, in part because of the particulate pollution but will likely never touch on the fact that low-rider vehicles tend to be older and do not contain modern emissions controls for fear of being labeled as racist.
The Climate Action Plan too dedicates much of its programs to the concept of racial equity - both to trying to right the wrongs of the past and to ensure members of these communities don’t fall behind again. The merits of this are not the scope of this post. The effectiveness of a plan is even rated on a scale they call they call the Climate Equity Index which they define as:
This tool brings together 41 indicators from publicly available data sources, that look at social and structural vulnerabilities, environmental pollution, and additional climate change impacts like flood and fire risks of census tracts within the City’s jurisdiction. After calculating relative scores for each census tract, the CEI separates the census tracts into five categories, from Very Low, Low, Moderate, High, and Very High Access to Opportunity. The City recognizes census tracts with Very Low, Low and Moderate Access to Opportunity as Communities of Concern
For each measure, they provide a rating for “Community Benefits and Burdens", “Community Empowerment,” and “Addresses historical disparity” under the equally word-salad mouthful “Potential for Equitable Implementation of Actions” category.
Here’s the example for the natural gas phaseout and eventual ban in most buildings.
We really do question whether those who came up with the Climate Action Plan were considering restaurant owners in general but since they’ve chosen to give so much emphasis on racial equity issues whether they also considered whether they are creating more problems for members of these groups than they claim to solve.
Or are these groups, just as children, and “the planet” simply being propped up as political lawns to suit the desires of extremist green hysteric ideologues? Only time will tell.
If the dozens of Asian restaurants in the Convoy Pan Asian Cultural and Business Innovation District were to relocate (likely outside of California) or close due to the Climate Action Plan’s supposedly “pro equity” policies, would those responsible take credit for this likely predictable outcome? Would they apply their definition of systemic racism? Or would they find someone else to blame? Perhaps the Experts at Harvard Admissions can help.
Update: a search of Titania McGrath’s long list of things that are racist resulting in nothing relating to natural gas bans. Looks like our entire piece is incorrect.
Most restaurants are required by building codes to have ventilation systems in their kitchen which cut down immensely on employee exposure to both the products of the any sort of applying heat to food whether and the byproducts of the cooked food itself. Korean and Japanese BBQ establishments are often equipped with dedicated ventilation hoods above each of the at-table units so the diners are not subject to high concentrations of any byproducts given off.
The Corporate Press always reminds us to defer to experts anyways
Which contrary to the elitist authoritarian goons in “Public Health” don’t acknowledge is a heated issue in the Black community,
Perhaps they were too focused on the arguments for repealing local cruising bans, (also here, here, and here) which when enforced disproportionally affected members of the Chicano Community. Such laws, regardless of intent are often considered racist if and when their enforcement impacts members of marginalized groups. (Aspoints out, this logic is not extended to gun control laws though which were often created specifically to disarm People of Color.)