Case Study In Making Science Propaganda: Cooking Becomes Pollution

Case Study In Making Science Propaganda: Cooking Becomes Pollution

Major Headline! “That mouth-watering aroma of fresh food cooking? It may be degrading air quality”.

Story opens thus:

It’s been known for years that cooking indoors can taint the air in a home and cause health problems, especially when cooking without proper ventilation.

But a new study found that emissions from cooking may degrade the air quality outdoors as well.

“If you can smell it, there’s a good chance it’s impacting air quality,” researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory recently wrote about a new study looking at the “unrecognized and underappreciated sources of urban air pollution.”

Now let’s put ourselves into the mind of the typical NPC as he reads that.

Oh no! Cooking is killing us! It’s been known for years!

But we have to eat. Where to get food? Wait. I know. We can order from corporate-food factories. It’s safe and clean. That seed oil they’ll use can’t be as bad as white supremacists claim. And bug meat is still meat. That’s why they have meat in the name. Anyway, it can’t be as bad as air pollution caused by cooking. Especially cooking with gas! Then I’m sucking in fumes. Even outside! How have we even survived this long? Thank God Experts are here to save us all. Cooking needs to be regulated! I need to go to the doctor and have my lungs scanned.

If you think that’s bad, imagine what goes through the mind of somebody hearing that story on NPR. One shivers.

Smelling good cooking, once praised and savored, and even looked forward to, is now supposed to fill you with horror and angst. And make you want to be comforted by the soothing solutions of government Experts.

And they’re needed because, as the newspaper continues, “The researchers found that ‘on average, 21% of the total mass of human-caused VOCs [volatile organic compounds] present in Las Vegas’ outdoor air were from cooking activities,’ according to the NOAA report.”

Nearly everybody will stop there, seeing nothing but the propaganda. There curiosity will have been sated by hearing Experts are on the case. Maybe—and only maybe—one in a thousand will click over to the press release the newspaper uses as its source.

The NOAA press release was entitled “Those delicious smells may be impacting air quality”. Incidentally, by impacting they meant influencing or affecting. Anyway, it opens:

Stroll along the downtown streets of any major city around dinner time and you’re bound to encounter mouth-watering aromas enticing hungry patrons to nearby restaurants like moths to a flame.

If there’s one thing the researchers at NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory (CSL) have learned in their multi-year deep dive investigation into the unrecognized and underappreciated sources of urban air pollution, it’s this: If you can smell it, there’s a good chance it’s impacting air quality.

Yes. “Impacts” in a good way. Cooking smells good. Do they want it to smell bad? How in the unholy hell do they let themselves write something so abominably stupid? Is the author a charter member of the Cult of Safety First!?

The press release points to a “study”, which we’ll come to in a moment, and which has as one its authors one Coggon. This Coggon gurgitated this quote, “We kept seeing a specific class of compound in the urban measurements, what we call long-chain aldehydes, that we couldn’t explain from these other sources.” Cooking was the source.

Long-chain aldehydes, eh. Better than them short-chain ones, amirite? Well ain’t that something. That’s some kind of science, boy. Look at all those science words! We never learn what a long-chain aldehydes is, though.

Side Note: A big problem (we’ve discussed this before) comes with the blessing in ability to measure. The more things we can measure, it’s true there is a greater chance we can identify the causes of how things work. But there is also greater angst when things start deviating from “norms”. Because of reductionist attitudes, we focus on single things (think CO2). Like long-chain aldehydes, which previously were never a problem. Now that we can measure them, they are.

Of the rare birds that got as far as the press release, maybe again only one in a thousand of them will have sufficient curiosity to find the real source, the paper on which the press release relies.

The paper is “Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions“, in Science, by Coggon and a slew of others.

Before that, we all grant that studying VOCs has been useful, such as in reducing LA’s smog. Good stuff. But success can lead to excess. It did here. An employed VOC scientist can only discover new VOCs.

In the paper—are you ready for this?—cooking is only mentioned three times, each time in an off-hand manner. A long paragraph on nasty chemicals in the air ends with this: “One possible source of aldehydes is cooking emissions.” That’s the only positive mentions.

Another references is to secondary organic aerosols (don’t ask), to which they say “Note that nonfossil contributions to SOA, such as from wood burning, cooking, and biogenic sources, are not considered here.” No, huh. Then we get to carbonaceous aerosols, “which does not include nonfossil components from cooking or biogenic sources.” I see.

That’s it. They even say “Indoor emissions of aromatic compounds have decreased by ~7% per year between 1981 and 2001”.

The whole paper is like this. Read it yourself. The message is Not Much Is Happening, But It Might Be Kinda Important.

From that thin reed an entire edifice of propaganda on how cooking stinks up the air was built. To which the authors of the paper itself even contributed. Hey, who doesn’t love publicity?

Many such cases, my friends. Many. Indeed, every time you see a “Research shows” you should first suspect something like this has happened.

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  1. Russo

    “May”, “could”, “might”, etc., are the qualifiers that signal much ado about nothing scientific propaganda-wise.

  2. Jim Fedako

    i can’t wait until I read the study that proves the blessed smoke from a campfire is evil, just like those burned hotdogs roasted on a dirty twig. The horrors.

  3. Gwyneth

    And what about the smoke emitted from the Vatican every time the College of Cardinals votes on the next Pope? Why no mention of that horrific air quality impact?

  4. Them folks lined up outside the BBQ joint? Can’t get enough of them VOCs!

    Wait for the fuss these thumbsuckers kick up when they realize what pollen is!

  5. Hagfish Bagpipe

    Nice work Briggs. Makes me want to fire up the grill, heat some meat, toss smoky chinks of wood… “chinks”?! I meant “chunks” of wood; apple, hickory… not aware of any asian smoke woods commonly available here. Anyway it makes my mouth water thinking of those lovely long-chain aldehydes wafting through the air. And why do you suppose they chose Las Vegas for trolling around in their fart-sniffer van? Maybe because it’s a fun place to relax after a few hours spent burning up the grant money measuring molecules and banging together big words? Hey science guys maybe next you could study the volatile organic emissions produced by patrons of girly shows on the Strip! Well, you can’t call them “girly shows” any more, but something sciency like “Biological Onanistic Neuro-Endocrinal Reification Systems” — acronym “BONERS” — big science bucks studying boners, boys, get the grant gears cranking.

  6. Steve

    “Indoor emissions of aromatic compounds have decreased by ~7% per year between 1981 and 2001”.

    I don’t even know what that’s trying to say. Most charitable reading I can give it is emissions in 2001 are 0.93^20=~23% of what they were in ’81. Every other way I can think of to interpret it means that while in ’81 cooking might have been an emissions source, by 2001, cooking had become an emissions sink. Yay, science?

  7. Tars Tarkas

    I particularly like this line of propaganda:

    “Stroll along the downtown streets of any major city around dinner time and you’re bound to encounter mouth-watering aromas enticing hungry patrons to nearby restaurants like moths to a flame. ”

    Restaurants? How about your neighbors cooking dinner in the home? No. They make it restaurants to blame it on business and not your next door neighbor cooking up a good meal.

    Jim Fedako… They are years ahead of you. The anti-fireplace and campfire propaganda has been out there for decades.

  8. Kip Hansen

    Briggs ==> This is a subtle carry-over from the general War on Food — for many many years, ongoing wars against particular foods (sugar, fats, gluten, meats, etc) now shifting to a larger war against food in general — under the guise of Ultra-processed Foods. The new war is not based on ingredients, but on the food production processes themselves — deemed dangerous to your health through vague associations and imagined links — with all the trappings of Corporate Conspiracy to create addictive foods that are killing you.

    The journalists picked up on the almost invisible link to cooking food and piled on.

  9. Brian (bulaoren)

    If I am a terrible cook, do my efforts crap up the environment more than a good cook’s would? What if I don’t cook at all? Would I be eligible for a carbon credit?

  10. Cary D Cotterman

    “But success can lead to excess.”

    Anyone who grew up in the Los Angeles basin and surrounding area in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s knows enormous strides were made in cleaning up the air. I remember living in San Gabriel Valley in the ’60s and seeing the nearby mountains a handful of times. It’s a different world, today, from those smog-smothered times. But leftists don’t know when to quit. A problem gets fixed to a reasonable standard, but they keep pushing, pushing, pushing, until they’re destroying the economy and standard of living with their unending drive to fix nonexistent problems.

  11. Johnno

    Have there been any studies of the negative impact of weapons sent to Israel or Ukraine on global air quality?


    When the time comes, we must immolate all of THE SCIENCE(tm)ists.

  12. The fundamental problem is all the pesky humans crawling all over the place cooking things and there’s an obvious solution.

  13. labrat

    if food smells good, that’s organic compounds and organic compounds may cause cancer to rats

    i’ve seen it all, now kill me

  14. Pitcher

    Wonder if some enterprising VOC scientists have transitioned to BIO scientist? I can easily imagine the idea that synthesis of ATP itself is toxic at current levels and needs to be regulated.

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