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The Largest Last Supper: Depictions of Portion Size Increased Over the Millennium

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

Portion sizes have been noticeably increasing in recent years, but when did this trend begin? The answer to this question can be found in depictions of Jesus Christ's Last Supper. The Last Supper is one of the most commonly painted events of all time and arguably one of the most famous meals of all time. We examined 52 of the most well known depictions of the Last Supper over the last millennium (1000–2000 AD/CE).

A CAD–CAM program was used to assess the sizes of loaves of bread, main dishes, and plates in each painting relative to the sizes of heads in each painting. Data analysis showed that the size of food relative to heads increased over time, with the most recent paintings depicting the largest main dish by head, bread by head, and plate by head ratios. The ratio of the main dish has increased by 69.2%, the ratio of the size of bread has increased by 23.1%, and the plate size by 65.5%. These statistics reflect the gradual shift from food insecurity towards food abundance as well as the concept that depictions of food in art and media may parallel their salience in day–to–day activities. Painted depictions of "The Largest Last Supper" reveal that art does imitate life and opens the doors to a new way of measuring food availability and perception.

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