An unusual study looks at the food portions in artistic depictions of the Last Supper throughout history. The apostles have eaten better and better over the years, scholars say.
By Melissa Healy in the Los Angeles Times
The Christian faith holds several acts of “super-sizing” to be miracles accomplished by Jesus Christ — a handful of fish and loaves of bread expanded to feed thousands; a wedding feast running low on wine suddenly awash in the stuff. Now a new study of portion expansion puts Jesus once more at the center.
In a bid to uncover the roots of super-sized American fare, a pair of sibling scholars has turned to an unusual source: 52 artists’ renderings of the New Testament’s Last Supper.
Their findings, published online Tuesday in the International Journal of Obesity, indicate that serving sizes have been marching heavenward for 1,000 years.
“I think people assume that increased serving sizes, or ‘portion distortion,’ is a recent phenomenon,” said Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.” “But this research indicates that it’s a general trend for at least the last millennium.”
To reach their conclusion, Wansink and his brother Craig, a biblical scholar at Virginia Wesleyan College, analyzed 52 depictions of the meal the Wansinks call “history’s most famous dinner party” painted between the year 1000 and the year 2000.
Using the size of the diners’ heads as a basis for comparison, the Wansinks used computers to compare the sizes of the plates in front of the apostles, the food servings on those plates and the bread on the table. Assuming that heads did not increase in size during the second millennium after the birth of Christ, the researchers used this method to gauge how much serving sizes increased.
And increase they did.
Over the course of the millennium, the Wansinks found that the entrees depicted on the plates laid before Jesus’ followers grew by about 70%, and the bread by 23%.
As entree portions rose, so too did the size of the plates — by 65.6%.
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