Gastronomy Director Elias Explains Role of Amid Gas Stove Controversy on NPR

Metropolitan College Associate Professor and Director of Gastronomy Megan Elias isn’t one to shy away from a hot-button issue. And with debates about the merits, drawbacks, and potential regulation of gas and electric induction stoves ongoing nationally, the food studies scholar and cultural historian was invited to make a radio appearance on NPR The Colin McEnroe Show to lend her perspective into why where we cook matters so much to us.

During the conversation, Elias highlighted the primal role of warmth to family units. “The hearth is always the center of the home,” she explained. “You think about the home, historically, the home is the place around the fire—even before people were really lived in houses, they focused their home life around fire.”

Now, controversy has emerged as purported threats to gas stoves in residencies has sparked mounting political fervor. According to Elias, the firestorm is not without precedent. “For all the [talk of the] hearth being a place of refuge, it is a place of cultural politics, too,” she said.

Elias suspects that no small part of some people’s attachment to the cultural shorthand of gas stoves is rooted in nostalgia, particularly for the satisfying way its flame ignites. But, she says, that attachment is a learned one, and one that was adopted more recently than we might think.

“It’s really sort of a 20th century phenomenon that ‘open flame’ means ‘domestic cooking.’ And in fact, there was a lot of work done to close the flame inside. Because open hearth cooking is difficult, but also really dangerous,” Elias said, citing the hundreds of years it took to achieve our modern techniques.

Still, Elias is sympathetic to favoring tradition. “There’s more drama to the open flame than there is to the induction plate or the electric coils,” she concedes. And she recognizes that familiarity is key to what makes food preparation special to people—calling the combination of generational intelligence “embodied knowledge.”

“You learn so much of cooking through feel,” she says. “It’s something [people] understand about themselves and their relationship to family and to food that’s special.”

Megan’s radio appearance is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. For more listen in at The Colin McEnroe Show.