O’CONNELL: Bigger bowls, bigger worries

On Tuesday morning, I reached below the cereal bar at Commons to grab a bowl for my Cheerios. To my surprise, instead of emerging with the usual, nicely sized dish, my hand surfaced with a veritable basin.

I tried to dole out my regular amount of cereal. Looking down, I saw that the Cheerios hardly covered the bottom of the bowl. The inches of empty space somehow made my breakfast seem inadequate. Even though my stomach desired no more food, my eyes did.

Recently, new, larger bowls have cropped up in Commons and residential college dining halls. The shallow, wide dishes hold significantly more than the previous ones, which have disappeared from the shelves. The change echoes dining halls’ unveiling of larger plates earlier this year, a move meant to reduce waste.

As someone who used to be overweight, I take issue with Yale Dining’s switch to bigger bowls. In my youth, I had trouble with self-control, and I struggled to eat appropriate serving sizes. Now, Yale Dining has made my weight-loss maintenance all the more difficult, and I worry that my peers will suffer as well.

The connection between dish size and the amount of food a person takes has its basis in an optical illusion. A small circle placed within a larger circle looks even smaller. Extend this concept to bowls. A person’s perception of how much soup he or she ladles out depends on how that soup looks in its container. The bigger the bowl, the more a person tends to put in it.

Seeing large dishes at Yale’s facilities hardly comes as a shock given dining trends in the United States. The size of the average American-made dinner plate has grown by almost 25 percent in just over a century. Meanwhile, weight issues have skyrocketed; currently, about one-third of Americans are clinically obese.

Until about four years ago, I ranked among the overweight. I neglected to keep my serving sizes in check. I habitually filled my bowls to capacity, and I always ate all of the food from my plate. Now, with these larger dishes, I will have to check my portions even more cautiously to keep my eyes from playing tricks.

I worry that my less self-aware peers will suffer due to the larger bowls. A busy student grabbing a bite in the awkward 30-minute time slot between classes hardly has the time or energy to keep track of how much food he or she takes. Extra calories could contribute to the infamous freshman 15 — or weight gain at any age, for that matter.

Granted, I recognize that I cannot completely avoid large dishes. Perhaps both my classmates and I should just adapt to the country’s new culinary conditions and monitor our food intake more carefully. However, education can only lessen, not eliminate, the tendency to over-serve into large dishes. So no matter how much we try, we will still tend to take more when offered big bowls.

Yale Dining has confused its priorities. Perhaps it wished to minimize the number of times a student must get up to refill his or her bowl. Yet should time take precedence over health? If the move intends to cut waste, like the switch to larger plates, I still wonder why the University would not willingly make a small sacrifice to benefit students’ well-being.

Students should, at the very least, have a choice about which bowl size to use. I suggest that Yale Dining put out both the old, smaller dishes and the new, larger ones. Students can heap healthier options — like light soups and steamed vegetables — into the larger ones while putting sugary cereals and ice cream into the smaller ones.

I hope that my friends will fill their bowls thoughtfully. But education can only do so much. Smaller bowls and self-awareness should both play a role in helping Yalies to maintain healthy lifestyles.

Rachel O’Connell is a freshman in Davenport College. Contact her at rachel.oconnell@yale.edu


  • silliwin01

    The new bowls also let you make a properly sized salad, and contain it well enough to allow some basic mixing in of the dressing. They are a massive improvement over the previous models, which held a laughably small amount of food (even cereal, really) and criticizing them on the basis of Yale students’ inability to control their caloric intake is questionable at best. I do agree that smaller bowls should exist for ice cream (not that I’d know if they do since I never eat ice cream), but its preposterous to argue that ostensibly intelligent Yale students need smaller bowls for portion control.

    • penny_lane

      While I agree that students should be able to take responsibility for their own portions no matter the size of the dish, it’s a little absurd that Yale is spending money on big bowls and plates when the smaller ones worked just fine. (I hear the big plates are generic, rather than college specific? This makes me sad.) I agree with the author: Now that it’s too late to reconsider the purchase, rather than replacing all the small bowls, just put big ones near the soup and salad.

  • mrmike527

    The real issue with the bowls is that they’re awesome and are all going to get taken home by students.

  • JohnnyE

    Face weakness head on to learn self control.

  • basho

    mo’ money, mo’ problems

    • haletinytea

      It seems to be true,

      that the more money one has,

      the more problems bought.

  • pamplemousse

    Great article, Ms. O’Connell

  • yale1212

    find something else to complain about. learn to control your portions.

  • jamesdakrn

    Totally thought the title was a marijuana reference.

  • haletinytea

    While indulging my predilection for the curatorial in the late 1960s at a Newport, Rhode Island home of Bucephus Hiram Whitney, Sheffield School dropout and cousin of William H. “Big Lub” aka “Tubby” Taft ’78, I chanced upon a photo from the 1850s in the drawer of a dusty roll-top desk, of a bowl of vast proportions in what I discerned was a Lawrance Hall suite. More visual evidence — if any were really necessary (for me to go on and on ad nauseam about this, or for that matter, anything else) — that Yale has always and continues to torment the would-be thin.

    Big bowls were an ineluctable consequence of Yale’s closeting of the heraldry encrusted residential college plates — substituting an elitist Taftian tormenting of the thin for the perhaps unsubtle appeal to the heraldic cognoscenti, as part of maintaining Yale’s snobbish class-ism.

    • haletinytea

      P.S. What size bowls do they have at the Div. School?

      • jamesdakrn

        I love you

        • haletinytea

          Why I thank you. But is it actually me that is the object of your affection, or is it just my unrelenting, utterly unreasonable and often frankly tiresome insistence on a bizarre mix of puzzling anachronisms and *sequiturs* — both semi and non — in my daily diatribes? I’d like to employ the neologism *monotribe*, since it often seems I’m the only one up to listening to my own wisdom, but you pampered and privileged pedants might well object to the bending of the Greek. Or, is it perhaps my status as February 23, 1971, Div. School Dining-Hall-Tray Sledding Champion (which apparently has bestowed upon me the authority, nay obligation, to confront Yale’s class-ism, whenever, wherever and from whomever, it should show its Janus face on the pages of this periodical?)

          • haletinytea

            P.S. No offense meant to those regularly engaged in “the bending of the Greek,” of course.