The dinner party that changed the world

the LAST SUPPER Leonardo da Vinci’s painting is the most famous one of Jesus’ Last Supper
the LAST SUPPER Leonardo da Vinci’s painting is the most famous one of Jesus’ Last Supper

The gastropolitics of the Last Supper is often overlooked in the chocolate-coated epicurean extravaganza that is Easter Sunday.

Jesus was betrayed while hosting the ritual Jewish Passover feast that became his Last Supper. In the Stuart Lee Allen book In the Devil’s Garden, it is argued that the Last Supper occurred on a date that had not been sanctioned by the religious and political authorities, and during an official fast.

So, Jesus’ Last Supper was an explicit and intentional confrontation with the Roman overlords and their local collaborators. He was saying, in no uncertain terms, that he did not recognise the legitimacy of their leadership.

And Jesus deliberately used food to make a political and theological stand. The Passover feast is a celebration of the end of bondage in Egypt. For Egyptian slavery read Roman occupation.

At his subsequent trial, the prosecution’s chief evidence was a sop (a piece of bread used to mop up gravy). Judas, the police informer, slipped out of the soiree, taking a sop in a doggy bag to his handlers as proof of the illegal gathering.

Holding his Passover feast early was a statement of independence. Jesus was challenging the authorities knowing that there would be consequences. Indeed, halfway through the evening, he predicted his own arrest. The rest is history. The police came. There was an arrest, a conviction and a crucifixion.

Jesus never tasted chocolate, but food played a major role in his fate.

Are we eating more today than ever?

Yes, says Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Laboratory. He analysed the plate size and food quantity in 52 of the best-known paintings of The Last Supper. He did this to compare portion sizes across history because it is the most famous meal eaten and has been painted across the centuries.

SUPERSIZED SUPPERS 

The most famous painting of The Last Supper is by Leonardo da Vinci, but there are many others. There are differences as to what exactly appears on the table in the various paintings (some painters depict the event as much more elaborate than others do), but all paintings include bread and wine.

Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Laboratory, compared measurements for the size of bread, main courses and plates painted in relation to the size of the heads of Jesus and his disciples. His findings, published in next month’s issue of International Journal of Obesity, show that modern portion sizes are significantly larger.

For the first 500 years after the death of Christ, the plates remained relatively constant (and relatively small), but after 1500 AD the quantity of food began to grow and the main meal has increased by 69%, plate sizes by 66% and loaves of bread by 23%.

None of this lets us off the hook when we pile food on to our plates this Easter, but it is reassuring to know that we have some blessed company.

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