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Bracing for Weekend's Charcoal Haze

Sometimes the only way to live green is to walk away.

I like a good burger as much as the next omnivore. I appreciate the atavistic appeal of cooking over an open fire, the rituals that attend certain times of year. There's something deeply satisfying about breaking out the grill for Memorial Day weekend.  And I really, really like the smell of barbeque sauce.

Unfortunately, I'm also fond of breathing.

In a densely settled town such as Barrington, the act of firing up hundreds, possibly thousands, of outdoor grills does dire things to the air quality. During last year's Memorial Day weekend, a visible haze hung over the town, and the air was thick with the smell of charcoal smoke, lighter fluid, and propane.

As my son Sean observed, "It smells like cancer." 

I'm not going to quote statistics and explain why charcoal grilling is unhealthy. That's like telling smokers that cigarettes aren't good for them. Why point out what everyone already knows?

Although I'd love to spend part of the weekend working in my garden, I'm resigned to the fact that this isn't going to happen. There are aspects of certain environments that are so intrinsic you can't reasonably expect to separate them.

If  I was allergic to dogs, for example, I'd stay out of pet shops. If I was in the mood for pierogi and Renaissance madrigals, I wouldn't expect Chan's Egg Rolls and Jazz to accommodate me. And if I have a problem with Memorial Day air pollution, I should stay out of the suburbs. For good or ill, backyard grilling is a part of the American Dream and it's not going away any time soon.

So. Have a good weekend. I'll see you once the charcoal dust settles.    

Dave Zgonc May 28, 2011 at 01:10 AM
Air quality aside, when the hot grills come in contact with animal protein (chicken, fish, beef), cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) tend to form on the meat. You are better off steaming some veggies and give up on the whole ritual of over-meating through the holiday.
Joann Landskroener June 02, 2011 at 01:33 PM
Steam those veggies filled with e coli! What ISN"T bad for you= take it all in moderation and enjoy life rather than hide. Life is short, are you going to make it shorter by bbqing a few times during the summer? I can't live with the attitude that most things in life(even sunshine) is going to kill me...yes in excess most things are bad=be responsible, and ENJOY.
Elaine Cunningham June 03, 2011 at 03:46 PM
I agree with Joann that enjoying things in moderation is key to healthy living, but breathing carcinogenic smoke is harder on some of us than others. I can't be around cigarette smokers, either, not even in "moderation." Outdoor grilling a few times a year isn't going to hurt most people, but on days when MANY people are grilling in a concentrated area, the air quality is going to take a hit. People with asthma and other respiratory problems need to take the same procautions as people with seafood and peanut allergies: If something makes you sick, you stay away from it.
Joann Landskroener June 03, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Allergy? No question, grilling can cause havoc= Dave didn't mention allergy

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