FootprintComment: Beware of portion distortion

Peter Grove, organiser of National Eating Out/In Week, explains the beauty of diversity but warns of our tendency to over-feed.


NATIONAL EATING Out/In Week took place to celebrate the diversity of international cuisines in Britain and raise money for malnutrition charities. The focal point of the event, which is celebrated throughout Britain both in restaurants and at home, is the five ‘homage days’ to dishes we often consider international but in their incarnation in this country are purely British.


The fun starts on November 19th with Casserole Day, followed by Spag Bol Day, Chicken Tikka Masala Day, Aromatic Crispy Duck Day and finally Chilli con Carne Day. Spaghetti Bolognese was recently voted Britain ’s favourite winter warmer dish with casserole second and curry third and the variety of cuisines available to us Brits nowadays is staggering.


However, whilst innovation and sustainability of produce are two of the top three causes for concern today, portion distortion remains the cause of over eating and considerable kitchen waste. Research in the USA has already picked up on this. Figures indicate that the size of a standard hamburger has risen by 115% and pasta servings by 480% in the past 20 years. Soft drinks are now 52% bigger (you are now offered regular or large – what happened to small?). A plate of Mexican food is now 27% bigger in the States and snacks are up by 60%.


The problem is that research shows that the more we are given, the more we eat. In a recent survey, 69% of people said that they finished all or most of the main course put in front of them in a restaurant. Where food was left, 67% said it was because the portion served was too large. In fact, the recommended amount of beef for a portion for easy digestion is 115g or 4oz, so why is the standard 8-19oz in the UK and 10-16oz in the USA? The human body cannot digest the larger amounts adequately, leading to weight problems, high blood pressure and, of course, indigestion.


The so-called ‘French Paradox’ stumped American Dieticians at one stage, when they discovered that they were 25% obese and the French just 7% – until they realised that the portion sizes in Paris were over 25% lower than those in Philadelphia.


Why not continue to innovate with exciting new tastes and combinations, but make a conscious effort to reduce portion sizes? This way, costs are controlled, prices could even be reduced, leading to more numbers served, and customers may still be healthy enough to continue dining with them for a good few more years than might otherwise have been the case. It’s all a question of education.


So, enjoy National Eating Out/In Week but remember – we were considered to be well-fed in the 1970s, so well-fed plus 35% nowadays is not only pointless and expensive, but positively dangerous.