There's a restaurant in Champaign, Illinois, that boasts "burritos as big as your head." If there were food rules to live by, the first one would probably be "Don't eat things with beans and cheese that are bigger than your head."
Yet egregiously amusing portion sizes are exploding in the U.S. and many countries abroad. Books like The Portion Teller have documented this over the last 20 to 30 years. But it raises the question, when did the supersizing of life begin?
If art imitates life, one place we might find some clues would be by analyzing the world's most famous dinner—the Last Supper. The event has been a favorite of starving artists for 2,000 years. Yet here's what is particularly interesting about it: none of the three descriptions of it in the New Testament say anything about the food. This would mean that an artist's depiction of the food would be sort of a Rorschach food test of what he thought was normal and appropriate for his day.
My brother—a religious studies professor at Virginia Wesleyan College—and I indexed the sizes of all of the entrees, loaves of bread, and even plates in the 52 most famous Last Supper paintings from the past millennium featured in Last Supper (2000, Phaiden Press), based on the sizes of people's heads. Through plagues and potato famines, the average size of entrees increased by 69 percent, plates by 65 percent, and bread by 23 percent. (The only thing that didn't continually increase with time was the number of wine bottles on the table—that peaked in the apparently party-happy 16th century.)