March 23, 2010

"The food portions depicted in paintings of the Last Supper have grown larger - in line with our own super-sizing of meals, say obesity experts."

That is not from The Onion, folks. That's BBC.com.
Professor Brian Wansink, who, with his brother Craig, led the research, published in the International Journal of Obesity, said: "The last thousand years have witnessed dramatic increases in the production, availability, safety, abundance and affordability of food...."

His team used computer-aided design technology to scan and calculate the relative measurements of items in the paintings, regardless of their orientation.

These included works by El Greco, Leonardo Da Vinci, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Rubens.

Based on the assumption that the width of an average loaf of bread from the time should be twice that of the average disciple's head, the researchers plotted the size of the Passover evening dishes.
Never eat anything larger than your disciple's head.
The main meals grew 69% and plate size 66% between the oldest (carried out in 1000AD) and most recent (1700s) paintings. Bread size grew by about 23%.

The sharpest increases were seen in paintings completed after 1500 and up to 1900AD.
Craig Wansink, who is a professor of religious studies, says the changes in portion sizes is probably a reflection of culture rather than theology.

"There is no religious reason why the meals got bigger. It may be that meals really did grow, or that people just became more interested in food."
Take, eat, this is my supersized body....

51 comments:

MarAkin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lyssalovelyredhead said...

MarAkin, why are you being a jerk? Seriously, what's up with the assholes who just show up to insult Althouse for no reason lately?
*******

Re: the post, two points:
1) Hey, that's kind of interesting!

2) Who paid for this study? Because if it involved tax dollars, I'm gonna have to say it wasn't *that* interesting.

- Lyssa

EKatz said...

I only skimmed the article, so I'm not sure if they mentioned this but - did anything give way to make room for the food?

There's only so much space in a given painting; if the food portions have gotten that much bigger, have certain conventional elements been removed or made smaller and less important? Like - the hands of Jesus and his disciples used to rest on the table, but now their hands are nowhere in sight because of this large succulent hindquarter of cow taking up all available tablespace?

Or has there been no real difference?

AllenS said...

Since the actual supper extravaganza happened, the disciples because of their age, have probably shrunken. Old people do that.

Alex said...

BTW Dana Loesch is thin and sexy hot mama. I'd do her.

Alex said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kentuckyliz said...

Holy McCommunion:

Quoting Jesus, in persona Christi, the priest holds up the host and says:

Take, eat, this is my supersized body....

Want fries with that?

The faithful reply:

I'll take the combo meal.

And then they sip of the cup.

WV allybro

Jesus is my allybro

Alex said...

Too bad Jesus didn't have Sonic Burger in the day... Imagine Jesus holding a orange slushie!

k*thy said...

EKatz, it's not like a chicken leg turned into a bucket of chicken - it seems the size changes were less than double.

Joe said...

Yeah, all those stories of Roman feasts were just made up. A Roman feast was merely three raisins instead of two.

Joe said...

Jesus did have a history of super-sizing things, like the fish. Then there's his work as a vitner, another form of super-sizing.

One could therefore argue that McDonald's is simply doing the work of the Lord.

And that these "obesity experts" are heretics. Burn them!

SteveR said...

Lyssa, my two exact thoughts.

edutcher said...

To which I say that, with the discovery of, and trade in, spices, meals would have grown larger. Also society was more stable and technological advances would have made the production of more food more likely and the transport of it farther easier and cheaper.

Ann said...

"Take, eat, this is my supersized body....

No, I dassent say it.

Maguro said...

The International Journal of Obesity, eh? Sounds like a jolly good read.

reader_iam said...

I'm massively resisting making a wisecrack regarding pinheads.

Roger J. said...

Apparently art history majors have far too much time on their hands--

and what is with these eqregious jerks who are imposing on a person who invites them into her space.

Must be TRex or his buddies nursing a grudge.

PatCA said...

I think the government should regulate our food intake. I know a prez who would be up for that.

Penny said...

I couldn't help but press the link on the BBC page for the very same story from MSNBC. It's always interesting to see how MSNBC supersizes their news.

Main dish has grown by 69 percent over last millenium

A.W. said...

mmm, it seems the number of people with waaaaay too much time of their hands is also increasing exponentially.

Alex said...

Pat - regulating food intake is next on the agenda. One way to control health care costs is to decrease obesity, which means regulating people's intake. Of course the fatties would be extremely offended and they tend to be Democrat voters.

MadisonMan said...

Except in New York State, where the portion sizes were reduced by fiat.

If you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you'll see that in all pictures of the Last Supper, the wine has actually been replaced by clear water, and the bread is made with organic sea salt and rice flour -- in case any of the Disciples had Celiac.

Penny said...

According to the BBC article, "The main meals grew 69% and plate size 66% between the oldest (carried out in 1000AD) and most recent (1700s) paintings."

According to the MSNBC article, "If art imitates life, we’re in trouble, the researchers conclude. The size of the main dish grew 69 percent; the size of the plate, 66 percent, and the bread, 23 percent, between the years 1000 and 2000."

It was most likely meat being added to the table in the 1700's that required bigger plates, but it's ever so much more fun imagining that McDonald's is the culprit.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chip Ahoy said...

Ya know, I cannot recall the last time I bought a loaf of bread, although I do recall talking about buying bread a decade ago. Then last night I passed through the grocer's bread area and saw a packaged loaf that looked like it could have been a small sourdough boule, except elongated. That is, not formed in a pan. It was the cutest little thing . I checked to see if it was sourdough and what they were charging. It was not, and they were charging 3.75. I thought, "Jeez, that's a really small loaf of bread." I could make that with the most insouciant ease. Ah pity da foo.

Oh yeah, wut, study? Portions. Yes, that.

ricpic said...

In classy restaurants they put one stinkin' roll next to each plate. I always resented that and now I have an opportunity to voice my resentment. So there.

Chip Ahoy said...

The apostles must have thought it strange to be having a passover dinner early and without the pascal lamb. Imagine it, a vegetarian passover. How odd. Then, there he goes again with his unfathomable stretched metaphors in his farewell discourse first himself as the true vine and themselves as the branches, bearing true fruit with non bearing branches hewn. On to the wine being his blood and the bread his body. Then further with the relationship between God and Jesus, Jesus with his disciples, the disciples with each other, the greatest love being the willingness to lay down ones life for one's friends. That a lot to take in over a sop of bread and wine.

The loaves and plates depicted in paintings are a matter of artistic composition. Like the pop-up meerkats eating the hawk. There were only so many plates I could fit on the table. The number of plates doesn't even match the number of meerkats. And I didn't have no scientist come around checking on the portions I drew either. I was very careful about that.

Old RPM Daddy said...

I say, Chip Ahoy, will you be doing some art work for this one?

One wonders if Mssrs. Wassink, instead of doing this study for the International Journel of Tubby, shouldn't have been out getting some exercise...

David said...

What, no "Stupid" tag?

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david7134 said...

Remember that Jesus had food stamps. That, in our day, is the biggest reason for obesity. Yes, you will say that all the rich kids are fat too, but that is because they don't get off their asses and do any work or hard play. All of the people you saw on the Katrina videos were on food stamps for their entire lives. Look at the result.

Now Jesus and food stamps, yes, the Romans made sure that everyone was fed and had games to keep them occupied and happy. Pretty much the beginning of our welfare state and the socialist nation we have become. Somehow we have made the so called "wealthy" the slaves to replace the slavery that the Romans had.

From Inwood said...

Liberals are the party of "NO".

No food, no drink, no spices, no additives....

Say, is it me or have pictures of Teddy & Patrick Kennedy grown larger?

From Inwood said...

Theo

Good analysis of a bunch of jerks.

Tibore said...

Given that past times were marked with significant famines as well as large portions of society literally going malnourished, why the surprise by the researchers at the extravagent portrayal of food in an idealistic portrayal of a commonly known scene?

I'd imagine most art is created to appeal; hence, the idealistic portrayals of so many of these figures. Why not up the plate sizes at the same time they're idealizing the expressions, wear on the clothes, cleanliness of the surroundings, and personal grooming? It's not as if the portion sizes were being increased while everything else was being portrayed realistically.

From Inwood said...

lyssa

Seriously, what's up with the assholes who just show up to insult Althouse for no reason lately?

They just want to be able to pounce on the keyboard when someone defends her & write something brilliant like "you're all robotic Althousekids, so there!"

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Palladian said...

Of course artists throughout history have only depicted things exactly as they are and never, ever changed, edited, or exaggerated anything in their painting for symbolic or compositional effect.

Art exists solely as an absolutely accurate record of exactly how things were at any given point in history.

Palladian said...

See, I don't buy this study because my own study of art history reveals that portions have actually been shrinking. Did you know that people in the 16th century were actually made entirely of food?

You can see that even as recently as 1952 portions were significantly larger...

Chip Ahoy said...

Palladian, I noticed that too.

Wanna hear something funny? Has nothing to do with bread-size, but does have to do with specialists and with bread-color.

Okay, stop me if you heard this. Egyptian hieroglyphics have several signs for bread that range from obvious loaves to signs that hardly resemble loaves at all. These symbols are known to represent bread because of their context, their ubiquity, and through the wide variety of carefulness and explicitness in how the symbols are depicted. They stand both for phonemes and for words that have mostly to do with all things bread, so-called determinatives, along with a few other off-the-wall (no pun) concepts, like the word, "give." Give, that's another one, the triangle sitting within a taller triangle, looks nothing at all like bread, but it is definitely bread. The most common of these bread-signs seen repeatedly on everything everywhere is this, ⌓ , which since the time of Jean-Fran├žois Champollion in the early 1800s is understood to represent the letter T. Indicating its importance, it is the first in category X on Sir Alan Gardiner's list of Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the sign is the major determinant for "woman, female, feminine." So any sign plus ⌓ automatically makes that word the female version of the word. It is also considered by Egyptologists to be determinative for the word "bread," because it so clearly looks like a bun, although I have not seen an instance in a composition where it is presented on a platter as a bun, or in a pile or group of them this, ⌓⌓⌓⌓⌓, as you could reasonably expect.

The problem I see is, color also has codified meaning. Color is a symbol. Painted hieroglyphics are symbol upon symbol. You can not just go slapping around whatever colors as suits your fancy. Well, I can with my nonsense cards and such, but they couldn't. This is divine writing, after all, no deviation allowed. For instance there are three clearly different colors of black and they all represent distinct concepts, as you can imagine, infinity, chaos, nothingness, death, primal organic post-flood earth sludge, and so on. Most of the time compositions do not have the full array of colors. Sometimes there are just two colors, sometimes just one. But when the full pallet is presented in a composition, you can count on those colors fitting and making sense within a codified range of concepts. That color symbolism is studied and nicely understood.

This bun is always painted black when a full pallet is used in Egyptian compositions. Always. And not just any ol' black either. The other bread hieroglyphs are colored a pleasant toasty bread-like color. But this T that means female, mother, sister, aunt, woman, is colored primal earth-black. Why? Because it's not a bun you goofballs, that's why. See how funny that is? My sense compels me to depart from Egyptologists far more experienced than myself including Champollion and the sainted Gardiner along with all those with doctorates that followed and studied under them just because this little woman-bun is black. Always black. A particular black. The T bun so codified is not a bun. It's a hill. There. I said it. The Egyptians are, excuse me, were, using a primal symbol of primal earth mound that emerged from the flooded Nile, the beginning of life, a profound sight that was seen repeatedly following each annual flood though millennia to use for the primal sound T. Not bread, the important but not quite primal food item. That's my story and I'll just have to stick with it.

Penny said...

Interesting material guys!

I'm just going to stick with the obvious for a minute here. We all know that kids are getting heavier, and that that isn't a good thing. Education and awareness for kids and their parents is fine. What frosts me though is how all of a sudden, we need to go scrounging for news stories that support an agenda.

So this Cornell professor/scientist wrote a book back in 2000 on this topic, and now we need to drag that out, dust it off and make it about super-sized meals AND art AND the Last Supper...simply because that fits the 2010 agenda.

Educating is fine, but isn't there a better way of doing this? The execution, while maybe even well-intended, is getting in the way of the important MESSAGE.

PatCA said...

"Consider the wasted energy required to produce and distribute this idiotic piece."

No, Theo, the portions are larger today and eating must be controlled.

And, we have always been at war with Eurasia!

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk Parker said...

Palladian,

"Of course artists throughout history have only depicted things exactly as they are...

Art exists solely as an absolutely accurate record of exactly how things were...
"

Yeah, but only up until the invention of photography freed artists from that burden, and allowed them to discover their inner creative selves.

Marcia said...

Brian Wansink's work is really interesting. I recommend his book "Mindless Eating." It's all about his studies that show things like: people eat more M&Ms if there are 9 colors of M&Ms in the bowl than if there are 6 colors.

That's just one I remember off the top of my head. People are so easily manipulated, and they know it's true of people in general. But they're all sure they won't fall for it.

reader_iam said...

Did you know kids eat more vegetables if there are more colors of vegetables in the bowl?

kentuckyliz said...

Growing prosperity and growth of the easter feast.

Like hieroglyphics talk--interesting.

Divine god-bread--symbol/color for that?

Starting to be used when?

About the time when the god-bread-man visited?

DaveW said...

This is the wrong crowd on which frisky ignoramuses ought to try out cultural history.

Boy is it ever. What an interesting thread.

Penny quotes MSNBC:

"If art imitates life, we’re in trouble, the researchers conclude."

And indeed that is a quote from the MSNBC article. What ignoramuses.

In 1900 the average life expectancy worldwide was 30 years. By the 1960s it was over 60 years. In just that short period of time advances in medicine, energy, industrialization and yes, food supply doubled the average human life.

We have developed some unhealthy habits due to the way our society has changed but this longing for yesteryear by these Luddites is idiotic.

Jesus came from a dirt poor family and it is unusual he lived to be 30. In all likelihood he would have been around 5'-4" due to a low protein diet. That's one reason there is so much emphasis on bread and feeding the poor in the bible. People were starving all the time in those days.

As an aside, the crucifix in our church has Jesus at about 6'-1" or so by my guess. Fine, but I doubt it. They get the emaciated look right but the modern artist' depiction of Jesus appears to be influenced by our super-sizing as well.

I'd rather be 15 pounds over-weight than dead, but hey that's just me.

Alex said...

DaveW - I suspect you're one of many overfed Americans. You could probably stand to lose 15lbs easily. Get on that stairmaster!

Rachel said...

What was bread doing on a Passover table anyway? Bread is forbidden at Passover; that's why we have matzah.

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