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 firstname.lastname@example.org