More than 2,000 years after it was consumed, one of the most famous meals in biblical history is again in the news.
A study by Brian and Craig Wansink in the International Journal of Obesity looks at 52 depictions of the Last Supper between AD 1000 and 1800, including the ones by Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and El Greco, and shows that the sizes of the plates, portions and bread have increased dramatically over this period. The brothers conclude that food has steadily gained prominence in our social consciousness—aided by rise in production, availability, safety and affordability since Christ’s historic meal—and suggest the trend apparent in the paintings is a reflection of a growing habit of over-consumption.
Food experts have for some time been concerned about overeating (the documentary Super Size Me embodied the fascination with oversized fast food and its effects). There may be unintended consequences of higher agricultural productivity and disposable incomes at work here. Despite its vast generalizations, the Wansink study manages to pin modern over-consumptive behaviour against staid medieval frugality.