Prime of Life

Kristine Hayes

I WAS 51 YEARS OLD when I ate prime rib for the first time. As it turned out, it was a life-changing moment. It might be difficult to believe eating a choice cut of beef could lead to an altered understanding of financial priorities, but it did.

I grew up in a fairly typical 1970s middle class family. Hamburger Helper, tuna casserole and peanut butter sandwiches made up the bulk of my diet. Our family rarely ate out and, when we did, it was almost always at McDonald’s. When I was a teenager, I got to pick where I wanted to dine on my birthday and usually opted for the local all-you-can-eat buffet. Having unlimited access to fried chicken, baked beans and soft serve ice cream seemed like gourmet dining to me.

I think it’s safe to say I didn’t develop a sophisticated palate as a child.

When I was in college, money was tight and my roommate and I subsisted almost entirely on Top Ramen and grilled cheese sandwiches, with the occasional splurge on a frozen pizza. When I graduated and married, my cooking skills were, not surprisingly, fairly limited. Tacos and spaghetti were the two main dishes I knew how to make. I slowly taught myself how to cook more elaborate meals, but ground beef and chicken were almost always the main ingredients of any meal I prepared.

When I divorced and began living on my own, my self-imposed frugality heavily influenced my meal plans. I started eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. But as a financial tradeoff, I would often forgo meat. I saw food as an expense that, while necessary, could be controlled by simply opting for low-cost ingredients. My frugal mindset didn’t necessarily carry over to all the members of my household. My corgi often ate food that cost more per pound than my meals.

In short, I viewed food as a necessity and not something to be enjoyed.

When I remarried, I discovered a new side of food. My husband rarely compares prices on grocery items and instead chooses to buy whatever he knows he likes. He enjoys savoring a good meal and wouldn’t consider skimping on it for the sake of saving a few pennies. When he suggested cooking a prime rib for Christmas dinner last year, I agreed, even though I didn’t know what a prime rib was—or the cost.

When we went to the local supermarket to get the roast, my husband spoke directly to the meat department manager and described exactly what cut he wanted. A few minutes later, as we were walking to the register, I snuck a peek at the price tag and was surprised at how reasonably priced the roast was. What I hadn’t realized, until we paid at the register, was that I’d misread the label, mistaking a “7” for a “2.” Our Christmas 2018 dinner was $75, not $25. My thoughts quickly turned south as I realized there had been times in my life when I hadn’t spent $75 on an entire week’s worth of food, much less a single item.

On Christmas day, my Mom joined us and we dined on one of the finest meals I’d ever had. My husband cooked the roast to perfection and I, for once, allowed myself to indulge in the pleasure of food. I’d probably never consumed as much protein in one sitting as I did that evening, but every bite was worth it.

As I grow older, I find myself reflecting more on life’s priorities. I’m realizing how quickly time passes and how fragile life is. I’m learning that the occasional indulgence—be it food, travel or crossing off a bucket-list item—helps keep life interesting. These days, my husband and I plan a “prime rib night” once a month. I consider it money well spent.

Kristine Hayes’s previous articles include School’s OutSix Years Later and State of Change. Kristine enjoys competitive pistol shooting and hanging out with her husband and their three dogs.

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