“Now we cook with gas” – and pay for it with huge bills


He won an Oscar for Ingrid Bergman in the movie “Gaslight,” and he delivered the punchline for a Daffy Duck cartoon.

Right now, two companies are hoping to jack up the price of natural gas for 25 million Californians who are already draining it through a few hard knocks: a trying winter and the king’s ransom gas heating bills to get by.

Also on the rise: interest in research, such as a Stanford study on gas stoves, reiterating the health and climate risks of a range of gas-fired household appliances – water heaters, furnaces, clothes dryers, and what to do with soup, cookies cooking appliance, the gas stove.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, just like petroleum which is refined into gasoline, and burning it can emit some of the same unpleasant and unpleasant rawness to humans. Most of what is in natural gas is methane, which can explode in a confined space.

That bit of science was brought home to Angelenos in 1985, when methane gas in the basement of a Ross discount store near the Original Farmers Market exploded; 23 people were injured. The city’s vast methane gas field extended to the location near the city center chosen for a large school complex. It took 20 years of non-stop construction, destruction and mitigation of methane and earthquake hazards before a school was finally built and opened there.

Worse still awaited us. In 2015, gas leaking from Aliso Canyon underground gas storage created perhaps the most environmentally damaging natural gas leak in the nation’s history.

About 15% of the natural gas the country uses goes into our homes, and recent figures from the Census Bureau are as follows: 61 million water heaters, 58 million furnaces, 20 million clothes dryers and about 40 million domestic stoves.

In total, the greenhouse gases these stoves can all expel are up to half a million cars, which is roughly the number of cars on the road ahead of you when you’re trying to get home early. on a Friday.

In the Los Angeles metro area, the Census Bureau’s Housing Survey reveals that eight out of 10 of us cook with gas.

Does this sentence evoke memories? It should.

“Now you cook with gas” is the expression of the advertising campaign that launched millions of pilot lights. It has helped sell millions of indoor natural gas appliances, the oven being the first of them.

Deke Houlgate was a football publicist who devised the Houlgate system for deciding college football national championship teams. He was also an executive at the American Gas Assn., and there, before World War II, he coined the phrase.

He also knew some of comedian Bob Hope’s writers, and soon the “cooking” line was showing up in Hope’s repartee, Jack Benny’s riffs and that Looney Tunes cartoon. Eventually it morphed into a home-front slogan, meaning “Now you get the idea” or “Now you do it right”.

A man and woman on a desert island discuss rescue strategy in a 1940s comic strip.

A newspaper cartoon published in 1943 employs the line “gas cooking”.


I heard my grandparents say it; you may have heard yours do the same. In the 1960s, glamorous actress Marlene Dietrich, who wore an apron as cheerfully as a Travis Banton dress, wrote in a cookbook that “Every recipe I give is closely related to gas cooking.”

The gas industry made sure to spread Dietrich’s endorsement. He was working hard to get business from Americans for gas-equipped appliances, versus the all-electric homes promoted by General Electric spokesman Ronald Reagan.

At the turn of the century, natural gas was already widely used for streetlights. Then, as it was supplanted by the brighter glow of electricity, gas companies sought out new markets and built increasingly reliable pipelines to supply them.

Gas had an almost fortuitous PR advantage: its name.

Anthony Leiserowitz is director of Yale University’s climate change communications program. At first, “natural” distinguished it from other gases, such as coal gas, and denoted something that came straight out of the ground.

“It wasn’t originally intended to be marketing,” he said, “but it’s of course the term the industry has been using for 130 years.” Recently, its “huge advantage as a marketing term is that this term ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ in the 1960s and 70s has come to develop a whole bunch of positive associations around it – almost like a halo. “

“You can see it at the grocery store: all the products they sell you with the word ‘natural,'” Leiserowitz said. “It’s not like ‘organic’ – there’s a strict definition and you have to meet certain standards there. But ‘natural’ is wide open.” And “in America today, we think of ‘natural’ as something very good for you – even though,” he says with a smile in his voice, “arsenic is natural!”

Consumers already tend to confuse “organic” and “natural”. And, says Leiserowitz, “the industry is very happy to have this term because it distinguishes them from other fossil fuels. We don’t think natural gas is as dirty and polluting as other fossil fuels. When you just call the gas what it is – methane – it’s interesting how the associations change, [that] people have very different perceptions.

Naturally, says Leiserowitz, natural gas manufacturers and promoters “don’t want you to have a new association with your gas stove now.” The success of natural gas appliances is “highly vulnerable to research indicating that burning methane in your kitchen is potentially harmful to your family.”

The image of natural gas was tweaked – a brief and wacky one – by the Trump administration in 2019. In a press release, the Department of Energy called natural gas the “gas of freedom” and hailed the export of “American freedom molecules” to the world.

With potential health consequences – yes, I wrote that – the stove is now the billboard device for industry campaigning, and for some Republicans to take the cry, “They’re coming for your stoves at gas!” (Sticker version – they’re not. Although California and Los Angeles are phasing out new gas hookups.) About a dozen years ago, Americans heard something similar, the “They’re coming for your bulbs!” political clamor against new light bulb efficiency standards.

A 1930 newspaper advertisement for an Electrolux gas refrigerator offered for $195.

Gas refrigerators? This 1930 Kansas newspaper ad calls an Electrolux model “absolutely safe.” In the late 1990s, authorities were warning of the dangers of carbon monoxide from another brand of gas refrigerator that was still in use then.


Rebecca Leber is a climate journalist at Vox, and before that at Mother Jones magazine. She writes frequently about the gas industry’s 21st century ad campaign, which goes far beyond Bob Hope’s “cooking gas” jokes and an unmistakably corny four-minute 1988 “rap” video. touting gas cooking, with safety tips.

Now, says Leber, social media influencers — like chefs and so-called everyday people — are posting personal testimonials. The subtext, says Leber, is “how vital the gas stove is to an industry that otherwise doesn’t have products that Americans really care about the way they are passionate about the gas stove. “.

Four decades ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the EPA considered regulating indoor air pollution hazards and the gadgets that created them. “There was a lot of pushback,” Leber noted. “The headlines at the time looked so familiar to what we’ve seen in recent months.”

Today’s PR campaign has a more nuanced mission than selling devices. Leber thinks that beyond improvements to gas stove ventilation (not always available to tenants and residents of older buildings), a meta message invoking the presence of an apple pie from a stove in a house “can be used to dig a ditch to fight climate initiatives around the country, [where] climate change activists are pushing cities and states to phase out gas in new buildings. The gas industry, she is convinced, is campaigning hard because it fears losing new markets and losing the market share it already has because of the rules on climate change and the fight against pollution.

In general, people “don’t care much about what heats their home or what heats their water, as long as it works. But “using the stove to trigger that emotional response, to capture the popular imagination.”

Whatever advertising techniques are deployed, don’t count on a cover of something like that 1988 hip-hop number, where young dancers wearing Jiffy Pop chef’s hats assure you in song that “natural gas is is amusing ! Natural gas is clean!

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