Researchers (and brothers) Brian and Craig Wansink have examined 52 of the most famous images of the Last Supper -- where Jesus and his disciples observed a Passover seder, the last before the Crucifixion -- and found a sizable increase in portions over the past millennium, from the year 1000 to ten years ago.
Brian Wansink told the LA Times, "I think people assume that increased serving sizes, or 'portion distortion,' is a recent phenomenon. But this research indicates that it's a general trend for at least the last millennium." Wansink, who authored Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, and who has conducted many portion-size studies as director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, brought his years of nutrition research to the study. Meanwhile, his brother Craig, a biblical scholar at Virginia Wesleyan College, brought the religious studies chops to their analysis of what they are calling "history's most famous dinner party." Their findings, which have been published in April's issue of The International Journal of Obesity, showed that over the last 1,000 years, the main course size of the Last Supper increased by 69%, plate size by 66%, and bread loaves by 23%. The researchers used the disciples' heads as a point of reference, comparing them to their dinners. And the largest increases started about five hundred years ago -- right about the time Leonardo da Vinci finished painting his lush masterpiece, The Last Supper.
Why the increase in portion sizes? The researchers suggest they may reflect the better-fed lifestyles of the artists and their contemporaries, as time went by -- a result of "dramatic socio-historic increases in the production, availability, safety, abundance and affordability of food." Which sheds new light on today's overeating culture. As the Wansinks put it: "The contemporary discovery of increasing food portions and availability may be little more than 1,000-year-old wine in a new bottle."