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The Last Pig-Out

The Last Supper by Palma il Vecchio, National ...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s often observed that eating is as much about culture as it is about the food itself. We share meals with friends as a form of entertainment. We go out on ritualized dates to restaurants. We have elaborate codes of conduct at the table that vary from culture to culture. Different foods, preparations, meal times and locations are set in each family and culture. We determine what is and is not an acceptable weight to see on the scale as part of our cultural relationship with food.

And, it turns out, even Jesus and the Apostles were subject to food issues. This article from USA Today outlines a study from the International Journal of Obesity in which researchers compared paintings of the Last Supper that have been done at various times over the last thousand years, including the uber-famous one by Leonardo da Vinci. What they found is that the average portion size of the food depicted in those paintings  increased a ton (um, pun intended) from the year 1000 to the year 2000, with the biggest gains (um, yes) seen in the last half of the millennium. More recent depictions also have the holy ones eating at more lavish spreads, with boar, eel, fish, lamb and other delicacies in evidence rather than the original austere bread and wine.

The conclusion the researchers drew from this is that food has become more available, less expensive, and richer in variety in the last several hundred years. That’s a great thing, and I’m sure it’s also contributed to our longer and healthier lives. But it’s pretty obvious that it’s also become more culturally acceptable to eat more food at a sitting, and choose richer foods to eat. Maybe we should all use this study as a reminder that we’d be just fine eating less, eating more slowly, and more mindfully. I’m pretty sure in the Apostles’ day, most people were more grateful for their food and more aware of it. We, especially here in the U.S., have so much food so readily available to us now that only a few of us really know what hunger is like.  And again, stamping out hunger is a wonderful thing. But it’s made us complacent, content, and obese.

Our culture of big portion sizes and endless food developed over a millennium, and it won’t change overnight. But we can still share meals with family and friends without falling into unhealthy eating patterns, and that’s where we need to get to next. A good dinner can be a small dinner, if we all agree that it is. If we can agree on that, it becomes part of our culture, and eventually might even overtake the current super-sized norm.

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  1. Carla
    April 1, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I like your thinking. I like your writing too!

  2. Kim
    April 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Thanks! Credit to you for both!

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