When it comes to our preoccupation with depicting food as both inspirational and aspirational, human behaviors haven’t changed much since as far back as the 16th century. According to a new study by Cornell Food and Brand Lab Director Brian Wansink, PhD, and colleagues, exalting over-the-top meals and exotic ingredients isn’t just a social media phenomenon.

If painters during the High Renaissance had hashtagged their work, they might have added flourishes to glorify #lobster; #pomegranates and #salt. The researchers found that some of the most commonly painted foods from 1500 to 2000 AD, such as shellfish and exotic fruit, were not representative of a typical diet; rather, artists painted extravagant meals based on desire rather than reality—a practice similar to today’s constantly trending #FoodPorn, say the study authors.

“Paintings from the age of Michelangelo were loaded with the foods modern diets warn us about: salt, sausages, bread and more bread,” Wansink says.

For the study, published last July in SAGE Open, researchers selected 750 European and American food paintings from the 500-year period and focused on 140 paintings of family meals. They found that 76% of all the meals depicted included fruits, but only 19% contained vegetables. Over 41% showed bread and pastries, while 39% contained meat. Salt was the most commonly depicted seasoning, and cheese the most common dairy product.

Photo Source: Copyright Wansink, Mukund and Weislogel, SAGE Open 2016 Wansink and Wansink International Journal of Obesity 2012

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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