Light is Right Joe Campbell

Light is Right Joe Campbell

I  used to labour under a terrible delusion. I assumed that my weight had stayed the same over the last thirty or so years because of will power. But it’s not the strength of my will that has kept me from getting fat. It’s the size of my tableware.

Gut size varies directly with plate size, apparently. You can look it up under nutritional and psychological science. Oh yes, researchers have studied it. Nothing is off limits to researchers nowadays.

Although I’ve watched diners expand over the decades, I failed to notice dinner plates expand as well. But why would I? I haven’t replaced my tableware since the advent of the personal computer. I had little reason to believe my plates were no longer standard.

Oh, at an all-you-can eat buffet in Las Vegas I feasted off plates promoted as the world’s largest. But I assumed they were an exception. It didn’t occur to me that they were a trend.

What’s more, the researchers have found that the trend has been with us for centuries. Through the second millennium, the plates in paintings of the Last Supper have expanded progressively by up to two-thirds. So has the amount of food on them.

This expansion isn’t due to a miracle like the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It’s due to a series of artists depicting the meal in images that reflects the reality around them.

Since I bought my antique tableware, dinner plates have increased in diameter to 12 inches from 8.5. These, of course, are imperial units. But I have it on good authority that metric units produce similar results. Whatever the measuring system, the larger diameter plates hold nearly twice as much food.

My Las Vegas experience should have taught me that bigger plates mean larger portions and greater consumption. But, as the wine glasses were also oversized, I wasn’t in a teachable mood. When my companions rose to leave, I refused to get out of my chair. It wasn’t because I wanted to eat more. It was because I regretted having eaten so much. My doctor had warned against heavy lifting and I was afraid to stand up.

Apparently, increases in plate size alter our perception of what is normal, and deceive us into eating more than we otherwise would. This, at any rate, is the theory.

My friend Dingwall noticed a similar perceptual change with increases in the size of his trousers. He told me that when he dresses for comfort, giving himself extra room around the waist, he puts on weight. To return to normal, he forces himself into trousers a size smaller.

“That must be unpleasant,” I said.

“Of course, it’s unpleasant,” he replied, “The pants are so tight I can hardly breathe. But since I’d rather breathe than overeat, dieting comes easy.”

Reflecting on Dingwall’s strategy, I saw fashion models in a new light. They don’t diet so they can more easily wear tight clothes and look more attractive. They wear tight clothes so they can more easily diet and lose weight. I hope I haven’t misjudged them.

My own experience suggests that eating isn’t the only activity that waxes and wanes with altered perception. After my wife and I married, we rented a tiny upstairs apartment, where we had our first child. Wanting more room, we moved to a larger basement suite, and produced a second child within sixteen months of the first. Blissfully unaware of a possible room-to-womb relationship, we next recklessly bought a two-storey house with four bedrooms and an undeveloped basement.

The following decade is a blur as we produced another six children at incredibly short intervals and turned the rumpus room we had built in the basement into a dormitory. Then we rested, but not for long.

Although we wisely declined to move into a bigger house, we foolishly decided to enlarge the one we had. The mere decision to add on, not the addition itself, was enough to produce our ninth child.

Does the room-to-womb relationship operate in reverse? Apparently, it does. In our mid-fifties, after the nine had fled, we traded the large two-storey home for a small bungalow to retire in. We haven’t produced any children since.

My hope is that the theory applies to writing. At best, I produce a couple of brief essays a month. But I can’t wait to experiment with a bigger computer screen. If I enlarge what I write on, I should be able to increase what I write.

If the theory is valid with food for the body, why not with food for the mind, not to mention the soul?