Rod Dreher

When we stopped at an Arby’s in northern Tennessee, I asked for a medium diet Coke. The worker behind the counter handed me a tub. This didn’t surprise me, actually, because I’d seen the documentary “Supersize Me,” which tells of how American soft drink sizes have ballooned in recent decades. Coincidentally, on the roadtrip I’d listened to a Leonard Lopate Show interview with Mark Bittman, in which Bittman discussed a university experiment in overeating. Researchers served the same soup to two different groups. One group got normal bowls; the second group was served from bowls that secretly had tubes connected to the underside. Those trick bowls were subtly refilled with soup during the eating process, such that the diners didn’t notice what was happening. They ate a lot more soup than the control group. Bittman went on to talk about how scientists have learned people unconsciously gauge their food intake from various clues, e.g., people who have to unwrap individual pieces of candy before consuming them will eat less candy than people who consume the same candy pre-unwrapped from a bag. Americans who have traveled to Europe will have noticed that there’s a significant difference in portion sizes between our country and European countries. A college friend who moved to Germany as an exchange student back in the late Eighties wrote to say he was hungry for the first couple of weeks, because he was being served less than he was accustomed to — but after that period of “initiation,” he found that he was satisfied with the smaller proportions. There is something about the American psychology that craves bigness, and feels cheated in some way by smaller portions. I wonder if it has always been this way, or if this is something that we’ve gotten acculturated to by marketing over the past 30 or 40 years. I suspect it’s mostly (but not entirely) the latter. As I’ve said before during discussions about liberal drug laws in the Netherlands, insofar as they work for the Dutch, it has a lot to do with the inner self-discipline the Dutch have as a characteristic of their residual Calvinist culture (they may not have the religion anymore, but they are much more self-controlled compared to us). You don’t see all-you-can-eat buffets in Holland, which explains why that culture is better able to handle liberalized drug laws than we would be in America.Which brings us to the problem of the supersized cocktail, denounced by The Atlantic’s cocktail scribe Wayne Curtis. Excerpt:

Of course, Americans have tippled big drinks as long as they’ve been tippling. Colonial taverns once set out large bowls filled with potent punches and vast tankards of flip, a hot toddy concocted with rum, beer, and molasses. But big drinks fell out of favor around the end of the 19th century, as the golden age of the refined cocktail dawned. Robert Hess, the author of The Essential Bartender’s Guide, told me that pre-Prohibition bar guides generally recommended glasses much smaller than those seen today–one 1917 manual suggested cocktail glassware ranging from just two and a half to four ounces. And the Mad Men swilling their way through the notorious three-Martini lunches of yore? Pantywaists. Those three Martinis combined would barely fill half a Big Rita glass. Small cocktails were favored for a simple reason: they stay chilled from beginning to end. Few things are as unappealing as a Martini that’s warm when you hit bottom, with the possible exception of an Old-Fashioned on the rocks that’s both watery and warm at bottom. (I cannot attest to the last sip of the Adios Mo-Fo; disturbingly, it gave me a hangover without my ever getting tipsy, and I conceded defeat after an inch or two.) Cocktails should be like tapas: intense hits of complex, well-balanced flavors in small portions that leave one wanting more.

I favor this way of drinking, and of eating: the idea that you should concentrate more on the quality of the stuff than its quantity, and indeed too much quantity, far from being a bonus, in fact takes away from the experience. It’s about cultivating both an aesthetic and an ethical sense that prizes quality over quantity, and valorizes not ascetic denial of pleasure, but self-control — a difficult skill to acquire in our culture, alas. This is why the French can eat so many delicious fatty things without getting fat: they eat small portions — though there is evidence that the Europeans are becoming more like us. Anyway, here’s a short video in which Curtis summarizes the point of his piece. Enjoy:

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