Vancouver chefs are up in arms about what they believe to be a plan by the city to ban natural gas from their kitchens, frightened that they soon will no longer be able to cook with an energy source they say is more versatile than any other. But is this really what is involved in the city’s sustainability plans?
A campaign entitled ‘GAS-tronomy’, urging the city to abandon plans to eliminate the use of natural gas kicked off this week, organised by food writer Samantha McLeod. She is the producer of the Eathical blog, which focuses on organic, local, and sustainable ‘farm-to-fork’ food culture.
McLeod has teamed up with chefs from some of the city’s trendiest restaurants to produce a series of professionally put together videos describing how gas is essential to high-end food production, from searing a steak to perfection to the appealing unevenness of broiled cheese atop French onion soup. The secret lies in precision, whereby a gas stovetop flame can be turned on or off instantaneously, its electric counterpart takes time to heat up and cool down.
GAS-tronomy are opposed to a motion passed by the city council last September to progressively eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, focusing on a reduction of demand for natural gas, from all new homes and other buildings by 2030.
“I can’t imagine cooking on an electric grill or an electric stove,” says chef Cullin David of the Caribbean-themed Calabash Bistro, “It just doesn’t make sense.”
However, the city says gas can continue to fire up kitchen stoves and ovens – and here’s why.
Part of the BC government’s Climate Leadership Plan focuses on the further development of renewable natural gas, or biogas, a carbon-neutral fuel captured and purified from landfills, farms or wastewater treatment and distributed through the same pipelines currently used for conventional natural gas.
Fortis BC, a private company whose business is the provision of natural gas, has criticised plans to get rid of its main product. Fortis also produces some biogas, but warns that complete replacement of natural gas for heating with biogas would require the capturing of methane from an additional 104 landfill sites.
The City of Vancouver says this would be true if the plan were to completely replace current use of conventional natural gas with biogas. However, the city is instead looking to a suite of options to reduce natural gas demand, including improved insulation of buildings, electric-powered heat pumps, and neighbourhood renewable energy systems.
“The main cause of natural-gas sourced greenhouse gases is heat and hot water,” City of Vancouver sustainability chief Doug Smith told The Climate Examiner. “Emissions from stoves are negligible, so there’s not need to ban conventional natural gas in kitchens. And there’s already enough renewable natural gas to cover this anyway.”
A number of restaurants, craft breweries and delis in the Lower Mainland, including Gastown’s Bauhaus and Moody Ales, are already using biogas in their operations, believing it helps promote their sustainability-conscious branding.
Correction Feb. 19th, 2017: Samantha McLeod’s name was originally misspelled.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.