I am in an Irish pub eating cottage pie, one of my favorites. I’ve eaten less than a third and I’m stuffed. “I wish the portions weren’t always so big,” I say to the waitperson. “They didn’t used to be,” she replies. “It’s because of the American tourists.”

Sometime in the late 1960s I went out to lunch with an elderly neighbor. I was amused when she ate half of her meal and then pulled a plastic bag out of her purse and tucked away the rest of her lunch for another day. In those days, portions were reasonable and few people couldn’t finish a meal.

Today we’re offered a 12-16-ounce steak, twice as much as most people should be eating usually preceded by a big basket of bread with butter or olive oil. Fat 8-ounce burgers are served on a huge roll with a side of fries. Fish and chips a local favorite comes as a plate heaped with deep fried fish, fries and onion rings, it can come to over 2000 calories, as many as most people should consume in a day. And then, if we can’t finish the meal, we’re offered a take-away box. Although some restaurants are changing to recycle-able waxed boxes for take out, it is still too often packaged in styrofoam, not a recyclable material.

Portion comparison 1950 and today

Portion comparison 1950 and today

A few weeks ago my order of Chicken Marsala arrived in a large bowl full of linguine with four large slices of chicken breast on top, all glazed with a rich sauce. I brought the extra home, it made a meal for two and I ended up putting some of the pasta in the compost bin. It was still too much. I always come home with leftovers and I like leftovers but I’d much prefer to finish my dinner. I was taught to clean my plate. I don’t remember a restaurant meal in the past ten years when that’s been possible. No, a correction, there are two places we go that offer half portions. I know that many people order one entree to share but if we are out for a nice dinner, we like to make our own choices.

Portion Distortion

Portion Distortion

 I sometimes order from the appetizer menu but even that seems to be up-sized. Not long ago an appetizer of potato skins with cheese and bacon was six huge baked potato halves with most of the potato still in the skin. Another time when I asked if I could be served small portions, I was offered the children’s menu. I sometimes ask the waitperson to tell their managers that it would be nice if half portions were offered. Once I was told that I should go to a competitor, an answer I don’t imagine a manager would appreciate.

If I had the energy I’d try to start a movement encouraging every person who finds portions too big to tell the manager. I’ll continue with my own campaign.

The Department of Agriculture found that in 1970 25% of American food expenditure was for food eaten away from home. A Bloomberg report in April 2015 reported that spending on food away from home had now surpassed food consumed at home. Dining out has become more common, perhaps because there are more two-income families, more women working and the increase in fast food restaurants. That doesn’t explain why portions have grown.