1940: The Food Size Cycle

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The Food Size Cycle
There's data suggesting that this model may apply to deep-dish/thin-crust pizza. I've designed a thorough multi-year study to investigate this personally, but funding organizations keep denying my grant requests.
Title text: There's data suggesting that this model may apply to deep-dish/thin-crust pizza. I've designed a thorough multi-year study to investigate this personally, but funding organizations keep denying my grant requests.


This comic illustrates the evolution of the size of food items over time, using the example of a sandwich. It starts with a regular sandwich at the beginning. As the sandwich became more popular, sandwich makers had an arms race concerning sandwich size as they competed for customers. Eventually, these sandwiches became too big to eat comfortably. At this point (according to Randall) some smart guy invented the panini, a small sandwich, to cater to those who couldn't find a sandwich small enough for their needs. Eventually, the panini itself will begin to grow, and either displace or become indistinguishable from the existing giant sandwiches, and the cycle will repeat. This is similar to Clayton Christensen's theory of disruption, where products keep adding features beyond what is needed by customers, and is then resolved by cheaper products with adequate features.

The title text suggests that the same cycle may be applicable to the depth of pizza crust, with thin crusts being replaced with deeper and deeper ones, eventually necessitating a resurgence in thin crust. Randall laments that despite seeking funding to conduct experiments to test that hypothesis, he keeps getting turned down, probably because it sounds suspiciously like he wants to be paid for eating pizza.


[There is a chart with the x-axis shown on top labeled "Food item size" and the y-axis labeled "Time". There are arrows pointing away from the top left corner on both axis.]
The food size cycle
[A normal sandwich is shown high up the chart. The text on the right reads:]
Initial normal-sized food (sandwich, burger, burrito, taco, etc)
[The next part below, further in time, has no pictured item but the text reads:]
Food becomes more popular
[Next below a larger sandwich is shown.]
[And below again an even larger sandwich is shown. The text to the right is:]
Size arms race: average item grows as restaurants compete to offer the largest version to hungry customers
[On the left side, representing small food sizes, the text embedded in arrows pointing to every direction is:]
[Below of that an enormously large sandwich is shown. The text is:]
Food gets too large to eat comfortably
[More below a new row on the left for small sizes comes up, inside is a panini. The text reads:]
New format appears and fills the void (panini, burrito bowl, taquito, slider, etc)
[Below of all the two paths may converge, indicated by two arrows pointing downwards and slightly together. The final text reads:]
Merger or replacement

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Does panini have a different meaning in the USA? In the UK, it basically means a sandwich made in a flattish rectangular roll, usually toasted (sometimes also the roll itself). They can be quite large; not necessarily smaller than sandwiches in general. 16:44, 10 January 2018 (UTC)

From my experience its the flatishness off panini that make them more comfortable to eat, but who knows maybe we're on the end of the panini cycle. 23:43, 10 January 2018 (UTC)
I think you're inadverently proving Randall's point. :) First I ever heard of paninis must have been something like 15 years ago, and the buns were slightly longer than my (admittedly large) hand, putting their length about the same as standard sandwich bread, but a smaller width making them smaller than a sandwich. I do note that if I see panini rolls in the grocery store, they're still that small size. Sounds to me like this size arms race is well underway for paninis where you live (I like never order them, but I suspect here too). NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:15, 12 January 2018 (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that when they first appeared widely over here they were already substantially larger than that. Perhaps we just imported already outsized ones from the US? Also, at that point, sandwiches generally hadn't undergone much inflation over here, so panini(s) and sandwiches have probably gone through a parallel expansion. The grocery stores here do also sell hand-sized panini rolls, but those are a relatively recent introduction, and they just match the general size of the rest of their roll selection. 10:10, 12 January 2018 (UTC)

Is it generally known that "panini" is the plural form of the Italian word "panino"? We don't say "burritos" or "taquitos" for one example, so why "panini"? Gearóid (talk) 07:46, 11 January 2018 (UTC)

But we do say 'a biscotti'. Probably because when selling them you would advertise in the plural, and those not familiar with Italian linguistics would not know how to construct a singular from it, and so would simply use the word as it stands. As a result, of course, panini and biscotti are, through use, now correct english singulars. 09:34, 11 January 2018 (UTC)
perhaps because of its unfortunate similarity to other English words, and the fortunate immaturity of the human race. 00:37, 12 January 2018 (UTC)
As a non-Italian speaker, I can say I was unaware "panini" was a plural word (though I feel vaguely familiar with the concept that Italian pluralizes words with an i like that). That'll be why, of course, most people are likewise unaware, and it has caught on. Especially considering that we'll often see "panini" itself pluralized, as "paninis". Reminds me of when I see things like "NASA Association", the final A of the acronym already means Association. "Scuba Apparatus", the A already stands for Apparatus. Etc. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:38, 12 January 2018 (UTC)
Expanding on the theme, there are rivers in the U.K. routinely referred to as the "River Avon", ignoring the fact that "Avon" already means "River"... Gearóid (talk) 07:29, 12 January 2018 (UTC)
We may not say "a burritos" or "a taquitos", but we do say "a tamale" and there is no such word in Spanish. The singular in Spanish is "tamal"; "tamale" is a backformation from the Spanish plural "tamales". 02:06, 13 January 2018 (UTC)
In English, words ending in "i" often lack an explicit plural form, since many words which end in a "s" or "sh" sound use an "i" ending when pluralized. Illiteracy has lessened this somewhat in recent decades: The correct plural for octopus is octopi & the correct plural for virus is virii. Saying "octopuses" & "viruses" are modernisms which have become so prevalent that they are now widely accepted, but grammatically they are incorrect.ProphetZarquon (talk) 19:51, 24 January 2018 (UTC)
The correct plural for octopus is not octopi, because octopus is not a Latin word, it is a Greek one. 15:21, 31 January 2018 (UTC)Jack Rudd
Octopuses (the most commonly used), octopi (a misguided Latinisation), and octopodes (a Greekification) are all acceptable English plurals for octopus. You can't really apply rules to determine whether things are "correct" in language; the only meaningful way in which something can be said to be "correct" is through common usage / understanding. If enough of us decided the plural of octopus was octoplops, then that would be correct. 16:36, 31 January 2018 (UTC)
It's not a Latin word or a Greek word, it's an English word. As such it follows english language rules which dictate that because of its ending, its plural should end in "i" rather than "s". It may or may not ALSO occur in those other languages, but that has no bearing whatsoever on its english pluralization. By way of comparison, consider the English word "Hinterland" and the German word "Hinterland" - they're spelled the same, they mean the same thing, but the correct plural of the English word is "Hinterlands" whereas the correct plural of the German word is "Hinterlande" or "Hinterlander"; each is correct in its own language but incorrect in the other. Similarly, "octopodes" may be correct in Greek but is not correct in English. Additionally, I would like to call out the overt fallaciousness of the implication that people have Latin in mind when they use a plural ending in "i". I guarantee you that nobody who says "Octopi" does do because they think the word derives from Latin; I would bet money that the vast majority of them have not considered the word's origin at all. 08:20, 12 March 2020 (UTC) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Well Hinterland does per definition not have any plural. At least in German. ([According to the most common German dictionary]). If I (native German speaker) had to use a plural of it, it would be Hinterländer, but usually I would avoid using a plural of that word. I cannot think of a context where it would be needed. But other examples work as well: Kindergarten in German would in plural be Kindergärten (a in Kidnergarten pronounced as the "u" in "luck", while ä in Kindergärten pronounced as "a" in "have"). English doesn't try to reproduce this slight change in sound for building plural, but instead would go with kindergartens I guess. ("Walking through the city I saw various schools and kindergartens.") - Regarding your second point: I'd say octopi because I learnt latin in school, and in the o-declination the singular word ending in -us will end in -i in plural. So your guarantee regarding "nobody" is worthless. --Lupo (talk) 08:46, 12 March 2020 (UTC)
I suppose that's what I get for using wiktionary instead of a proper German-to-English dictionary. As for Latin, I'm at least confident that none of the people in my town who say "octopi" are thinking of Latin, because the highschools in my town don't teach latin. I don't even think my college offered it as a course. They offered Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish, but not Latin 15:56, 12 March 2020 (UTC)

Ah, but what about the slider effect? Mini versions of (in this case burgers) to be served in a collective? --Thomcat (talk) 17:01, 10 January 2018 (UTC)

Related, perhaps, is the sizing issue. Some places sell medium, large, and extra large drinks. Note no small. 20:29, 10 January 2018 (UTC) Gene Wirchenko <[email protected]>

And the 'regular' is what used to be the 'large'; the 'small', if it exists, is what used to be the 'regular' - to try to make you feel like you're short-changing yourself if you buy a normal sized one. 09:27, 11 January 2018 (UTC)

The alt-text seems backwards: The way Randall's presented it, it looks like he's asserting that thick crusts get thinner, then the cycle repeats. This matches anecdotal evidence based upon the style favored by my local pizza shops over the years, but more research is needed. Thin crusts also tend to be cheaper to make, so... ProphetZarquon (talk) 21:08, 10 January 2018 (UTC)

I don't think so - 'deep-dish' is listed first, as the one on the original track; 'thin crust' is then the one on the replacement track. The original pizzas, as imported from Italy, would have been thin crust. These then got thicker until they begat deep dish, and, indeed, beyond, with the ridiculous proliferation of stuffed and sandwich crusts. Then, as some people lost patience with this, there was a trend to re-introduce the thin crust (the replacement track). 09:25, 11 January 2018 (UTC)
Some original pizza from Italy had thick crust. My uncle, an immigrant to the US from Bari, Italy, made extremely thick crust pizza at his restaurant in the 1960s, almost a pizza bread. Pizza Hut initially advertised their 'deep dish' as 'Sicilian Pan Pizza'. 21:54, 11 January 2018 (UTC)
Thick crust is listed first, giving it precedence. To get thinner or thicker would be a logical progression which can loop back without significant alteration, whereas a replacement track would imply calzones, or taco-pizza, or some other such alternative to traditional pizza. By the simple fact that he listed thick crust first, reading it in English implies a progression from thick to thin. Also, see 75.166's reference to Sicilian pizza: I'm pretty sure thin crust is a modernism; Pizza crust is not unleavened, it is meant to rise. ProphetZarquon (talk) 19:38, 24 January 2018 (UTC)

Portion inflation makes dietary information misleading. One would be hard pressed to find a muffin of the size used in nutrition information guides. Recipe books show similar inflation, recipes as printed make larger amounts of food, but they are listed as feeding fewer people than they used to. [1] Analagous inflation can also be seen in clothes sizes. What used to be a size 8 is now labeled a size 4. Regular becomes "slim cut." 00:01, 11 January 2018 (UTC)

Is the ratio between subsequent food size bifurcations consistent with the first Feigenbaum constant? [2] Docstout (talk) 01:15, 11 January 2018 (UTC)

Does this remind anyone of a Hertzsprung–Russell diagram? Capncanuck (talk) 02:51, 11 January 2018 (UTC)

Yes. It reminds me of a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, but being inversed. 13:42, 26 January 2018 (UTC)
That's what I thought too, except its mirror reversed along the diagonal08:20, 12 March 2020 (UTC) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

BTW, I find it amusing that this comic came out the next day after a report on shrinkflation of Mondelez chocolates in Europe hit the news here ... --kavol, 07:57, 11 January 2018 (UTC)

Is this phenomenon specific to the US? I don't really recognize it here in the Netherlands, but the US has a reputation of having giant versions of everything: food, cars, people (width mostly) & so on. Maybe specific to a "big is beautiful" cultural attitude? 15:22, 11 January 2018 (UTC)

This happens, albeit to a considerably lesser extend, in the UK. Here, the phenomenon is restricted primarily to American fast food restaurants. I've eaten in America and was able to get 6 meals from the left-over food from a single-portion meal at Pinky's Pupu Bar & Grill in Kailua, Hawai`i. 21:31, 11 January 2018 (UTC)
Living in Canada, I find it amusing to note that my Netherlands-born-and-raised mother often complains about large portion sizes, about how anything she might order is way more food than she can eat (and in fact has this weird effect on her that a large amount of food makes the food unappetizing to her). As far as I know, this is a North American phenomenon, but moreso in the States. For example, if I go to McDonald's and order a trio, and tell them to Supersize it, that means change the Regular drink and Regular fries to Larges. In the States, apparently "Supersize" is its own size, this changes them to a size above Large that doesn't even exist here. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:38, 12 January 2018 (UTC)
Common in the Netherlands also: https://huisvlijt.com/2016/11/krimpflatie-minder-product-zelfde-prijs.html, https://forum.fok.nl/topic/2255412. Though some of the examples seem to be normal inflation combined with downsizing. -- 09:29, 12 January 2018 (UTC)

Is it just me, or did this look like a reference to BitCoin to you when you first read it. Big block size, forks, the creation of new coins... I think Randall was really just making fun of BitCoin, because it seems like an otherwise boring topic --vikarjramun

I think it might just be you. :) I suspect it's that you've read and heard more about BitCoin than I have. All I know about BitCoin is that it's an online-only virtual currency almost exclusively used for criminal activity (ransoms for ransomware, selling off stolen pictures hacked from celebrities, etc), and that their price has gotten ridiculous (like a ransomware I heard about asking only 3 BitCoins, amounted to about $2,000 at the time. Idiots outpriced themselves, the only people who'd pay that are companies big enough to have backup solutions which make it unnecessary). I don't know any of these phrases in relation to BitCoin, and out of context here they have no logical connection (except creating being self-explanatory), they clearly require the context. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:29, 16 January 2018 (UTC)