The Disappearance of Supper -- Why
Americans Started to Get Fat
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April 1, 2018

By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

The year is 1843 and a popular tune sung in pre-Civil War
American is "Old Dan Tucker". Here are some of the lyrics:

Get out the way, ol' Dan Tucker
You're too late to get your supper,
Supper is over and dinner's cooking,
Ol' Dan Tucker just standing there looking."

The song reflects a common pattern of eating among
working class people in America, a pattern of eating three
meals. The first meal was "breakfast", the second meal was
a midday meal called "supper", hearty enough to give you
the energy you needed to finish labor that was mostly
manual, and the third meal was more formal and was called

Today, people use "supper" and "dinner" differently,
depending on what area you come from.  But one trend is
clear, no matter what region of the US you come from,
fewer and fewer people are using the word "supper" to
refer to their midday meal. Now, among those less than 40
year sold, people almost universally refer to the midday
meal as "lunch".

So What Difference Does It Make?

There was a time when I believed it made no difference
what you called your midday meal. Now, I know it does.

The changes that accompanied the replacing of supper with
lunch are not just semantic. They reflect a change in
lifestyle. More was lost than simply a syllable.

Historically, supper referred to a meal that included soup.
The word "supper" is believed to derive in fact from "soup".
People supped their soups, and the meal became known as

As time went on, supper included more foods than simply
soup, and it evolved in many regions of the country into a
full-blown meal, much like what we think of today as the
main evening meal called dinner that would include meat,
vegetables and perhaps a dessert as well. Here is a key
point. People ate supper at home. When we were mainly a
farming nation, men came home in the middle of the day to
share supper with the family before returning to the fields.

"Lunch"  is a concept that started to take root around the
turn of the century as farm work began gradually to be
overtaken by work in cities and factories as the principal
way families earned money.  Lunch, a short, punchy word,
suggests what it is -- a short, quick meal to dampen the
hunger quickly, so we can get back to work.

Lunch, unlike supper, can be packed to go. You may "pack
your lunch" but you would never "pack your supper". One
is a meal of convenience eaten in a hurry, the other is a
meal with family, not often rushed.

Lunch, unlike supper, is almost never shared with family at
home. It  is a meal eaten away from the family. Children eat
it at school and adults eat it during the workday.

Now, More People See No Difference Between Supper and

Harvard University conducted a study of regional dialects
called "the Dialect Survey" which asked the question "what
is the difference between supper and dinner".  The largest
percentage ( 34.56%) of the 10,660 people surveyed, said
that the two words mean the same thing. Another 33.14%
said that they "do not use the term supper". That means
that for almost 68% of Americans, supper no longer has a
distinct meaning.

Supper is disappearing, being dissolved interchangeably
into dinner.

It's the Soup That Counts

When the original meaning of supper began its slow
disappearing act, so did the customs around the meal.

The central custom that gave supper its meaning is the
inclusion of soup in the meal.

And as the custom of including soup before the meal or as
the main meal itself disappeared, our body sizes began to
expand. This is no coincidence.

As a nation, we used to eat more soups than we do now.
Soups and stews are slowly eaten foods. At least, they are
eaten more slowly than, say, a bag of chips or a hamburger
on the run.

Soups take longer to eat and as a result, they make up eat
less. They do this in two ways. First, soups require that we
use a spoon or that we drink them down.  Assuming that
you do not gulp our soup --- and for most of us this is not
possible ,especially with a thicker soup --- then eating soup
will take as much as 20% to 40%  longer than eating a

The second reason that soups slow us down is that they
are mostly liquid. Stomachs, before they are distended by
overeating, are about the size of your fist. Soups  take up a
lot of space in out stomachs.

Soups also reduce the amount of calories we take in during
the day. Soups contain fewer calories than a sandwich of
comparable size. Soups are said by nutritionists to be less
"calorie dense" than solid foods.

Many studies have discovered that people who eat soups
tend to weigh less. One important study was completed in
2007 by researchers from The Pennsylvania State
University. In the study, called "Soup preloads in a variety
of forms reduce meal energy intake", a total of 53
participants were given a soup or nothing to eat before
lunch. Those who ate soup ended up eating between 5%
to 7% fewer calories later at lunch.

Doesn't sound like much of a difference? Actually, eating
just this much less can add up. Eating 5% fewer calories a
day, on a daily calorie intake of 2500 calories, means 125
fewer calories per day. This would equal 45, 625 calories
per year. That is equivalent to a weight loss of 13 pounds
per year. The 5% estimate is at the low end. At the high
end of 7% fewer calories, eating soup before the meals
would produce a weight loss of 18.25 pounds a year.

In less than 24 months, if you are 40 pounds overweight,
making this small change in your midday meal could move
your weight close to a healthy range. The weight loss will
be gradual, steady and inevitable.

Soups satisfy your appetite, studies have found. A study in
2013  Oxford Brookes University looked at the evidence of
soup's ability to satisfy the appetite. Called "Soups increase
satiety through delayed gastric emptying yet increased
glycaemic response", the study was one of the first to
show exactly why soups are so satisfying. Soups delay the
time it takes fr your stomach to empty itself, called
appropriately enough "gastric emptying time". As a result,
you feel fuller longer than you do when you eat solid foods.

The study found that smooth soups take 41% longer than
sold food to leave your stomach.  Smooth soups take 33%
longer to clear out of your stomach than chunky soups
such as stews.

The other effect of eating soups is that your body has
faster access to the nutrients in the food. In scientific
term,s sups triggers a faster glycemic response. The energy
from the food enters your blood stream faster and the
body feels its needs are being et quicker, so it stops
sending out the signal of hunger.

How to Add Back Supper Into Your Life

Soups are one big part of the story of how as a culture
came to be overweight. With the disappearance of soups at
supper, gone were all the calorie reducing benefits of
having a bit of soup before our meal. But also gone was
the ceremony of eating together.

The tradition of eating together around a table has been
under attack in out culture fro almost 100 years, since we
left the farms. It's time to bring it back.

But how do we do this in our mobile world where few of us
have the luxury of eating with family in the middle of the

Here's an idea. Instead of grabbing a sandwich for lunch,
invest in a thermos bottle. Buy a smooth vegetable soup
and carry the thermos to work.  Have your soups at the
start of the lunch hour. Better yet, share the soup with
your significant other or child by texting them when you
start eating. Call it a "virtual supper". But a virtual supper
together is better than no supper at all.


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