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Luxury or Necessity? The Freighted Symbolism of our New Rice Cooker

Among the many purchases we just made during our whirlwind trip back to the United States was a new rice cooker (here it is, if you’d like to...

Among the many purchases we just made during our whirlwind trip back to the United States was a new rice cooker (here it is, if you’d like to take a peek…)

If you look closely, you’ll see that said cooker forms part of the “fuzzy logic” line of rice cooker/steamers/slow cookers by Sanyo. Call me crazy, but am I the only person who feels somewhat uncomfortable encountering fuzzy logic outside of the confines of a philosophy seminar?

Be that as it may, and perhaps because I’m a convenience freak, I think of a rice cooker as a staple of any kitchen (though, admittedly, I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to dump close to 180 dollars on this particular model, as we just did…make that my husband just did…but then again, he’s a gadget freak – don’t get me started on the “texture” button…he’s all over that).

But back to adulthood. I’m always fascinated by what people consider to be “necessary” vs. “luxury” expenditures (for a quick economics primer on these terms, see here). An old friend of ours who was just visiting, for example, confessed that his wife – a one-time caterer and still a superb cook – had only recently purchase a rice cooker, deeming this to be a somewhat frivolous kitchen expenditure when you could just, you know, boil the stuff. But she is also the one who endlessly harasses her husband to drop “one to two hundred grand” to overhaul their current kitchen – a figure they can’t even come close to matching so it’s really a moot point, but, hey, why dismiss a potential source of marital conflict over a technicality?

Similarly, my husband – the one who prefers his rice textured just so – recently declined my generous offer to a 30% off coupon at our local Gap, protesting, “But I already have one pair of everyday pants. I don’t need anymore than that…” Hey, I grew up in a house where we used a fork tyne to remove the top of one of our sauce pans for thirty years before questioning whether it might not be time to get a new one, so I’m hardly what you’d call a spendthrift. But it strikes me that one pair of “everyday pants” is pretty few indeed.

We are currently living through an era of proposed Treasury Department regulations restricting luxury expenditures and culturally pregnant movies about Shopaholics (for a great explanation of why this movie is so pertinent right now, read this article in Slate.) So I think it’s well worth asking: When the going gets rough, what do you really need and what can you do without?

I know that in our household, there’s a lot that’s up for debate. My husband will want to hang onto the organic home-delivered groceries; I’ll want to hang onto The New Yorker. But because we’re both grown ups (and want to keep our marriage going) we’ll inevitably have to make trade-offs and compromises.

How about you? Where do you draw this line?

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