Apartment after apartment that I saw when moving to San Juan, Puerto Rico, had what is widely considered most home cooks’ worst nightmare: electric stoves. I was lucky to find a place that even had an oven — a tropical fact I hadn’t considered — and so what I would have once thought a dealbreaker became my new normal.
The flat range offers two settings, raging hot or off, and scorches the bottom of my beloved cast-iron and stainless-steel pans. When making a simple syrup to candy citrus slices, I have to remember to immediately remove the sugar from the heat, even after turning off the burner, or it instantly turns to blackened sugar ash that I’ll have to spend ages scrubbing off. Often, I forget to turn the burners off at all because there is no flame to remind me that they’re on.
It has required, basically, a whole new approach to cooking. And when the power goes out on the island owing to earthquakes, heavy rains, or other failures of an outdated system, all hope of a home-made meal goes into the garbage. As the lights cut out and the room goes black, water stops boiling, sauce stops cooking, and prep time spent is lost — along with the rest of the food rotting in a rapidly warming fridge.
When weighing the unreliability and cost of electric versus the climate change nightmare that is our overreliance on natural gas, cooking at all loses its charm.
It’s also not cost-effective here, where electricity prices are nearly double what they are in the mainland United States (it’s more expensive than in any state other than Hawaii). The island’s top energy official, José Ortiz, warns that next summer might see many planned blackouts in order to meet energy demands, making an already tenuous, expensive system more inconsistent. In Cuba, as well, electricity is too expensive to use for cooking, yet cooking gas can be weaponized by sanctions. When weighing the unreliability and cost of electric versus the climate change nightmare that is our overreliance on natural gas, cooking at all loses its charm.