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‘Unhealthy, indulgent meals were desirable even 500 years ago’

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Washington: Our desire for indulgent meals may be over 500 years old, according to a new study which found that meat and bread were among the most commonly depicted foods in 16th century European paintings of meals. “Crazy meals involving less-than-healthy foods aren’t a modern craving,” said lead author Brian Wansink, from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab in the US.

“Paintings from what’s sometimes called the Renaissance Period were loaded with the foods modern diets warn us about – salt, sausages, bread and more bread,” said Wansink. For the study, researchers started with 750 food paintings from the past 500 years and focused on 140 paintings of family meals. Of the 36 “Renaissance Period” paintings, 86 per cent depicted bread and 61 per cent depicted meat while only 22 per cent showed vegetables. The most commonly painted foods were not the most readily available foods of the time reported.

For example, the most commonly painted vegetable was an artichoke, the most commonly painted fruit was a lemon, and the most commonly painted meat was shellfish, usually lobster. According to the researchers, these paintings often featured food that was indulgent, aspirational or aesthetically pleasing. “Our love affair with visually appealing, decadent or status foods is nothing new. It was already well-established 500 years ago,” said Andrew Weislogel, curator at Cornell University’s Johnson Museum of Art. The study was published in the journal Sage Open.