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The Largest Last Supper!

Depictions of food portions and plate size have increased over the millennium

Depictions of food portions and plate size have increased over the millennium

The size of the foods in paintings of “The Last Supper” have increased overtime

Looking at the types and sizes of food in pieces of art can provide insight on current eating behaviors and trends

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Wansink, Brian, and CS Wansink (2010). The Largest Last Supper: Depictions of Portion Size Increased Over the Millennium. International Journal of Obesity, 34, 943–944. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2010.37

Were the twelve apostles guilty of overeating at the Last Supper? If you look at a recently painted depiction, you sure might think so. Portion sizes have been gradually increasing with increased food production, availability, safety, abundance and affordability, which is thought to be a contributing factor for the obesity epidemic. Since art imitates life, will paintings depicting food show larger portions as well?

Brothers Brian Wansink from Cornell University and Craig Wansink from Virginia Wesleyan College, teamed up to analyze the amount of food depicted in 52 of the best-known paintings of the Last Supper of the last millennium. The paintings were analyzed for content of the meals and coded to determine changes in kinds of food and size of portions over time. The sizes of the loaves of bread, main dishes, and plates were compared to the average size of the heads shown in the paintings. A CAD-CAM program was used to allow sections of the paintings to be scanned, rotated, and calculated with more precision.

The largest Last Supper was the most recent, according to Wansink's analysis

As was expected, the size of food in these paintings linearly increased with time. From 1000AD to the present, the ratio of the main course entrée, size of the bread, and size of the plate have increased by 69.2%, 23.1%, and 65.5%, respectively.

These results show that analyzing the sizes and types of foods in art and media can provide an investigation of our current culture. Further research could be a springboard to other engaging questions about our eating behaviors and trends over the years.