Large plate, large appetite


Zubin D’souza

A couple of decades ago the entire world was riveted to any news that came out of the Japanese island of Okinawa. This tiny dot that lay in the China Sea had managed to produce the largest number of centenarians. There were literally hundreds of people who lived to be above hundred.

Although spending a century alive on Earth is not as difficult as it once was, the Okinawans managed to live healthy and be productive till the end.

The Japanese Diet and the Okinawa Diet became the latest fad diets to hit the pseudo-healthy circuit.

Every single person with longevity on their mind wanted to ape the geriatrics on this island.

The premise of the diet was rather simple. Fresh seafood coupled with little or no cooking and above all, limited portions.

I think the last part put many folks off the diet.

Seafood and raw stuff seemed rather okay but limited portions.

We exist in a world where restaurants in certain cultures pride themselves in serving up such huge portions that folks find them difficult to finish.

Unlimited buffets, massive salad bars, bottomless drinks, free refills and all-you-can-eat menus have become de rigueur.

Only if a buffet stretches as far as the eye can see are we satisfied with the ‘variety’.

In my years of feeding people professionally I have even heard people comment that the food was so good that they had stuff left over on their plates.

Usually when folks think in terms of huge portions, their first thoughts veer towards the United States of America.

While they may be right in certain ways, the United States has done a lot to fight a sustained campaign against obesity across the nation. The result has been that portion sizes have dramatically fallen.

That has not stopped most restaurants especially diners from offering portions that help an entire family stave off starvation.

The Australians enjoy their jumbo-sized food products. A simple stroll near the Opera House in Sydney would be enough to convince you. It is in few other places that you really need a dinner plate to house your muffin or carry away your cappuccino in a pail.

The Indians have their unlimited thalis with stewards insisting on ladling more rice into your plate even after you have popped your belt buckle and all your shirt buttons.

In the Arabian Gulf, you can be assured of dollops of everything on top of mounds that sit upon piles.

Science has realised that there has been an intentional increase in portion sizes over the last few decades.

This has had direct bearing to the increase in obesity.

Although the logic is not very straightforward; packaging and portion sizes have increased to give companies a competitive edge in the value-for-money-perception market.

Simultaneously because of leaps in labour-saving device manufacturing, there has been a decline in human activity. Ergo, you have your perfect storm and hospitals are filled with the results of this catastrophe.

The perfect place to spot the real increase in our food consumption is probably an antique shop.

Back in the day when people were trimmer, a dinner plate was roughly the same size that we now use as a side plate, a side plate was pretty close to a saucer and a saucer was similar in size to what we now would use in a children’s tea set.

It is a known fact that larger sized crockery makes you eat larger portions because a regular sized portion looks tiny in comparison to its surroundings.

Children up to the ages of three and four are the only ones who actually stop eating when their tummies are full; the rest of us just soldier on till our plates are wiped clean.

What we do in modern times is often referred to as the cattle trough method where a seemingly unlimited amount of food fills a trough and forces the animal destined for the butcher’s knife to eat more and fatten up faster.

Unfortunately it is part of our very human nature that makes us eat and drink when we are confronted by food and beverages.

There are also differences in standardisations when it comes to cutting across cultures.

A standard KFC burger weighs 139 grams in Japan but a comparatively whopping 520 grams in Canada.

Conversely a medium portion of McDonald’s French fries weighs a dismal 104g in Australia but a hard – punching 135g in Japan.

We are definitely not going to be able to match the Okinawans in longevity anytime real soon.