Food / Meal Portion Sizes Increasing

Here’s an article by Ann Landi in ARTnews, reporting that portion sizes in depictions of the Last Supper have grown. Ms. Landi references this 2010 paper by Wansink and Wansink, published in The International Journal of Obesity.

It reminds me of this 2003 paper by Nielsen and Popkin in JAMA (here’s a free PDF copy), which found that between 1977 and 1998 food portion sizes in real life — both at home and in restaurants — have increased. I wonder whether the two observations, increased portion sizes in depictions of the Last Supper and in real life, are related! And I wonder whether the Wansink brothers reference the paper by Nielsen and Popkin; once again, I’ll have to find out.

Food portion sizes have gotten so big that when dining out I often eat only half of what’s served, and the next day I eat the leftover portion as an entire meal unto itself. One might therefore ask, why don’t restaurants just reduce portion sizes and charge the customer less? My friends who know economics much better than I do say that it’s because these days, most of the cost in preparing a meal isn’t the actual food material; rather, most of the cost is in the human labor (wages/salary) and associated costs (like insurance and retirement plans). Because of this cost structure, restaurants have an incentive to offer larger meal sizes, because the incremental cost of adding more food is relatively small. Maybe somebody out there in the restaurant business can confirm or refute this?