Has even the Last Supper been supersized?
The food in famous paintings of the meal has grown by biblical proportions over the last millennium, researchers report in a medical journal Tuesday.
Using a computer, they compared the size of the food to the size of the heads in 52 paintings of Jesus Christ and his disciples at their final meal before his death.
If art imitates life, we’re in trouble, the researchers conclude. The size of the main dish grew 69 percent; the size of the plate, 66 percent, and the bread, 23 percent, between the years 1000 and 2000.
Supersizing is considered a modern phenomenon, but “what we see recently may be just a more noticeable part of a very long trend,” said Brian Wansink, a food behavior scientist at Cornell University.
The study was his idea. For biblical context, he sought help from his brother, Craig Wansink, professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Va., and an ordained Presbyterian minister.
The Bible says the Last Supper took place on a Passover evening but gives little detail on specific foods besides bread and wine.
“There’s nothing else mentioned. They don’t say there’s a fruit cup or carrot cake,” though other foods such as fish, eel, lamb and even pork have appeared in paintings through the years, Brian Wansink said.
For the study, he used paintings featured in the book “Last Supper,” published in 2000 by Phaidon Press. They include perhaps the most famous portrayal of the meal, by Leonardo da Vinci. Computer technology allowed them to scan, rotate and calculate images regardless of their orientation in the paintings.
Details are in the April issue of the International Journal of Obesity.
Lisa Young, a New York University nutrition professor and author of the book "The Portion Teller Plan," offers a more contemporary example of increases in portion size.
“I can’t tell you what the disciples were eating at the Last Supper — but when McDonald’s first opened, a soda was only 7 ounces, and today it’s [as big as] 32 ounces,” Young says.