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Super-sizing the Last Supper


This is my favourite news story of the day. Obesity experts say that food portions shown in paintings of the Last Supper have grown larger over time, apparently in keeping with society’s own growing appetites.

A team from Cornell University team studied 52 of the most famous paintings of the Biblical scene over the past 1,000 years, particularly the size of the meal laid before Jesus and his disciples at their last meal before His betrayal was completed.

They found the main courses, bread and plates depicted in these paintings have progressively grown by up to two-thirds, reports the BBC.

This, they say, is art imitating life.

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.

“We think that as art imitates life, these changes have been reflected in paintings of history's most famous dinner."

According to the BBC, Wansink says the finding suggests that the phenomenon of serving bigger portions on larger plates has occurred gradually over the millennium.

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 (shown above) 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.

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.

The BBC also quoted Charlene Shoneye, an obesity dietician for the charity Weight Concern, who said: "I'm really not surprised by these findings because the size of our plates and food portions has increased.

"Twenty years ago, for example, most crisps (potato chips) used to come in packs that were 20g. Now they are 30g, 50g or even 60g, and we are still eating the whole pack.

"This super-sizing has changed our perception of normal."

Comments (12)


Could this be a whole new way to feed the 5000? ;)

I saw this story on the TV news last night - pretty funny!


Certainly not a surprising conclusion. The Leader for my Weight Watchers Group said yesterday the Obesity crisis we face is related to our current "Portion Distortion"!

That is very funny.


Very interesting. (Although I'll refrain from commenting on the artists' choosing to picture bread at a Seder. LOL)

I don't know why, but this story reminded me of that Last Supper with the cuy (guinea pig)! http://www.travelblog.org/Photos/2546720

At least they were locavores. :D

I laughed when I saw this last night.


Geez, what next? Have Jesus and his disciples gain wieght too? :)


Thanks everyone! It is funny, but sad too, to think how crazy portions have become!

Colleen, that was definitely an interesting, local take on the Last Supper. Definitely NOT super-sized, the little pig looked pretty small to be shared among a dozen men.

Interesting piece of news.

Part of the super-sizing trend is also the increase in size of the dinner plate. For a while now I've been making an effort to control the amount of food we consume and for that purpose I’ve been using 9 inch dinner plates that we bought in Portugal 30 years ago. It is surprising how much food we were putting on the more modern 12inch dishes!

That is amazing, especially since the portion size grew between 1000 AD and 1700 AD! Interesting post.

I am always amazed when people will rate a larger poor quality meal higher than a smaller excellent quality meal.

I wasn't surprised but yet amazed at the differences in portions. We are definitely a culture of excess.

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