Columns 2003

Nona’s plates

In case those of us with a weight problem didn’t have enough to worry about already, we now find that being overweight also increases our chance of developing certain forms of cancer.  Just when I thought it was safe to attack another cheese cake.

One of the other things that caught my eye in the recent spate of stories about obesity was the issue of the larger portions now served routinely at restaurants, homes and concession stands. I am no slacker in the food consumption category, but even I have to question if anyone can really drink some of those super sized offerings of cola and actually sit through a 3 hour movie without rupturing their bladder.

When I was back East last fall, I went through some dark, hidden areas in the back of my dad’s old store where items from deceased relatives had been placed over the years.  Unlike people who find unknown Van Gogh’s in their family attic, the best I could come up with was some depression era pots and pans from my Nona made of such thin tin that it’s surprising they were able to hold her Sunday pasta sauce without collapsing under the burden.

I also found some of her serving plates.  Their only worth is sentimental and I am nothing if not a totally teary eyed sentimentalist despite my sometimes gruff exterior. So I decided to bring some of the serving plates back to Alaska with me.  It was not till I got here and was putting them away that I noticed their size compared to the size of my plates.

The serving plate my grandmother used to serve a roast for her entire family – a husband, daughter and four sons – is about the size of one of my dinner plates.  And trust me when I tell you that my Nona expected to have leftovers to use for other meals throughout the week.

Then I started looking at some other odds and ends of dishes that I’d pulled from her boxes.  They were again dishes that I’d brought back more out of sentiment than any real usefulness. They are pretty little flowered dishes with gold rims that had once been part of her good Sunday and holiday dishes.  Now there’s just a few soup bowls and dinner plates left.

I tried to empty a single serving can of soup into the soup dish and it could barely hold the contents.  The soup came up the sides to the edge of the gold rim.  I could empty almost two full cans of single serving soup into the bowls that came with my china.  As for her dinner plates, they are the size of my salad plates.

What this says to me is that when I fill my plate, even if I put what I consider small amounts on it because I am trying to be good about my diet, the portions are still larger than what was considered normal not that many years ago. 

The creep towards larger and larger sizes in everything we eat has happened so gradually that I really didn’t believe it when I read about it.  It wasn’t real to me till I started comparing Nona’s dishes with mine and I realized that she would have used my dinner plates for serving platters and expected enough leftovers to last a month.

Now I find myself really looking at the size of the popcorn containers at movie concessions. I realize that the medium size contains more popcorn than my mother, father, brother and I consumed during a Sunday night around the TV watching Ed Sullivan in my childhood.  And my parents could never be accused of stinting on food. It always felt as though we had plenty of popcorn.

I find myself looking at the size of the plates that restaurants serve dinner in. Even those upscale places that only serve a small architectural product in the middle of the plate created from the food you thought you ordered, serve it on plates that crowd the table out.

The phrase “Bigger is not necessarily better” is applicable to many parts of life.  When it comes to food, I think we are all learning it’s a given. Bigger is definitely not better when it comes to food and our health.