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Commentary: Reflecting on holiday baking traditions and the push for an all-electric building standard

Rev. Mary Gaut has a holiday baking tradition that has been passed down through generations. Courtesy photo.

By Rev. Mary Gaut

The writer served for 20 years as the pastor of Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson and is a 2014 GreenFaith Fellow.

Christmas isn’t over, the song reminds us. There are 12 days in the season which ends with the feast of the Epiphany for those in the Christian tradition. But, really, for most of us things are beginning to return to whatever we define as normal these days and the sights, smells, and sounds are already fading into memory as we look ahead to a new year of promise and peril.

For those of us fortunate enough to have friends and family close by, the holiday season was marked by gatherings and the observance of the unique traditions that bind us together. My family has a cake recipe passed down through generations and the smell of that cake baking, with its rich spices, was a hallmark of family gatherings. The tree was in the living room, but the cake was in the kitchen so it’s no wonder the kitchen was where we gathered. And it’s important that those gatherings be safe as well as festive.

Through the years, as I became more aware of environmental hazards and the impact of our choices on the future of our planet, I also learned that some choices like gas-burning stoves in our homes can have more immediate consequences for those closest to us. Could the stove where that holiday cake was baking actually have exacerbated my daughter’s asthma years ago? Turns out the nitrogen oxide, benzene, and methane that are all emitted from gas-burning ovens are not only bad for the environment in general but also for those who gathered in the kitchen as the cake was baking. Yikes. So, when I had to replace my stove, I reviewed the research and went electric.

Prior generations passed along traditions that become the glue that binds us together in families and communities. They also bequeathed to us homes and buildings that rely on fossil fuels to heat and cook, but also pollute our air and damage our climate. They didn’t know the impact of those choices — but we do. As we make our individual choices such as moving to all-electric induction stoves for cooking and electric heat pumps for heating and cooling, it makes sense that going forward we act collectively and make sure that all new buildings adhere to an all-electric standard that is proven to be better, healthier, and more conducive to a stable climate and a sustainable future.

Last August, a dozen community groups gathered with elected officials in Reisterstown to advocate for an all-electric building code proposal for Baltimore County (as both Montgomery and Howard counties have already done). But here we are, entering the new year, and no bill has been brought forward. Isn’t it time to get this done?

As a pastor I would preach about how the Christmas story was about ordinary people doing the best they could in trying circumstances to shelter and nurture a vulnerable and fragile hope. The story of the “wise men” (celebrated at Epiphany) is in part a story of choosing a new way forward. For the family and friends who will continue to gather in this new year and for the good of the climate on which all Creation depends, let’s make 2024 the year we approve an all-electric building code for all new buildings in Baltimore County, gifting our children and grandchildren with a safer future through the choices we make now.


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Commentary: Reflecting on holiday baking traditions and the push for an all-electric building standard