Sizing up the swelling portions of the Last Supper

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The Last Supper by Ernst Zimmerman Image: © PoodlesRock/Corbis

To analyze how portion sizes have changed, not just in the last two decades, but in the last millennium, the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and his brother, a biblical scholar at Virginia Wesleyan College, sized up portion sizes in paintings of the Last Supper over time, according to an article published earlier this week in the Los Angeles Times. In total, Brian Wansink of Cornell, and Craig Wansink of Virginia Wesleyan, analyzed 52 depictions of the Last Supper across a span of 1,000 years. By contrasting the head sizes of Jesus and his apostles with the size of the food portions before them, the Wansink brothers were able to note a clear trend: in the last 1,000 years, portions sizes—and artistic depictions of them—have been steadily growing.

During the time frame studied, the size of the main course portions before Last Supper attendees grew by roughly 70%, and the bread included in the paintings grew by about 23%. And it wasn’t only the food getting bigger, the L.A. Times reports. According to the research, plates themselves grew steadily across the centuries—increasing by nearly 66% during the millennium studied.

In the midst of growing global efforts to rein in obesity, our expanding portion sizes have come under frequent scrutiny, yet, the Wansink brothers point out, piling more onto our plates is hardly a recent phenomena. As they wrote in the International Journal of Obesity, according to the L.A. Times, “”The contemporary discovery of increasing food portions and availability may be little more than 1,000-year-old wine in a new bottle.”

Read the full L.A. Times story here.