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. [reference]
The Dan Brown’s of nutrition.
Glad such important research is going on. Hopefully there was a government grant behind this. Next they will be getting out their measuring tapes to see if statues of saints have increased in girth over the years. Though Saints Anthony and Thomas Aquinas statues will throw off their results.
Did you ever hear the story of the friars having to cut out an arch shape swath of the table, to fit Thomas Aquinas in, so he could reach the table to eat?
No doubt it’s their phD thesis. This is how we get people with college degrees who can’t find their own butts with both hands.
Not that I think you’re wrong about this being a waste of money (especially for what’s ostensibly medical research), but I do find their discovery kind of interesting, from an art history perspective.
Aquinas was called an “ox” but one must remember that his mom was not Italian but was Theodora Countess of Theate and related to the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Therefore he being part Germanic could have looked large to the Italians of his native land.
The other thing is that if he was in fact overweight rather than simply tall and large boned, it is not likely from overeating since he is the only Catholic author I have read who detailed gluttony as happening in 4 or more ways….quantity, speed of eating, insistent delicacy of taste and eating too soon vis a vis the normal time. There was one other one way but I forget and it is in the Summa Theologica on line.
Imagine if the catechism got as detailed as he was. Fast eating teens would be in trouble at Penance.
The researchers ignored the most important factor: the use of perspective improved over time. Case in point is the photo that accompanies the article, which shows a comparison between Christ’s Head and a loaf in the foreground. Objects in the foreground appear relatively larger than objects in the background.
Dan Brown indeed.
Only 52 artist renderings of what there must be thousands upon thousands of.
Look at a modern rendering: Dali’s last supper, putting aside the painting itself – is sparse in terms of food. I guess you can’t include that if you want to prove your point.
Or… the farther you go back, the less interest there was in painting a realistic amount of food. Look at Leonardo’s Last Supper — does anyone think that was supposed to be all the apostles ate???