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Visual Argument: "The Fast Food Supper"

Aristotle's Logos, Pathos, and Ethos in an Illustration Designed to Persuade

SUBJECTS — U.S./1991 - present; Health; Medicine;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Taking Care of Yourself;

Age: 12+.

Description: "The Fast Food Supper" is an illustration by then high school student Jacob Thompson, commissioned for TWM's Learning Guide to Super Size Me. The illustration is an example of an argument using a visual image.

Rationale: "The Fast Food Supper" makes its visual argument using archetypes, allusions to works of art, references to religion, as well as a statement of contentions that can be analyzed in terms of Aristotle's rhetorical appeals of logos, pathos, and ethos.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will analyze a visual argument with reference to its archetypical, artistic, and religious allusions as well as its rhetorical methods.

"The Fast-Food Supper" 2010, Jacob Thompson



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Analysis Through Discussion


Before showing students Jacob Thompson's "The Fast Food Supper," have the class examine Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" and provide students with the following information.

Food and Meals in Religion, Art, and Archetype

For any animal, taking food into the body is essential for life. For human beings the meal is a communal act of bonding. In literature and the other arts, scenes relating to meals are an archetype of a peaceful nourishing communal act of the group. A meal that goes badly, a meal in which there is discord, is that much more significant because it betrays the nature of a meal which is a coming together in peace to take in nourishment.

The act of eating also has important meaning in religion. In the Christian Holy Communion, there is the wine, standing for the blood of Christ, and the wafer, representing his body. Drinking a little wine is central to most events of Jewish worship. A prayer over the wine, the Kiddush, ushers in the Sabbath. Challah, a special braided bread, is also blessed at the beginning of the Sabbath meal. And, of course, we cannot forget the apple (or pomegranate) eaten by Eve in the Garden of Eden. Clearly, that was one bite of food that had important consequences.

Sociologists tell us that families that eat together are more cohesive than families that do not. The religious ceremonies surrounding food also have important social benefits. The holy communion, sort of communal meal, binds the congregation together. The Sabbath meal binds the family and guests in Jewish tradition. Meals also can bind the entire religion, such as the Jewish Seder, a joyous meal/religious ceremony for the holiday of Passover in which Jews celebrate the rebellion of the Israelite slaves in Egypt and their successful flight from the Pharaoh's army.

There are also secular meals that have significance: Thanksgiving, Sunday dinner, Christmas dinner, the Fourth of July barbecue or picnic, etc. What is special about these meals is that they bring us, the family or those invited to join the group, for a common, peaceful, and important purpose.

In art, meals are often important. Dickens' A Christmas Carol ends with a Christmas Dinner and Tiny Tim saying, "God bless Us, Every One!" The meal is the occasion by which Scrooge re-enters the community. And then, there is Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper"


The Painting by Leonardo da Vinci

One of the most famous paintings in the world is Leonardo Da Vinci's depiction of the "The Last Supper." This painting shows a scene from the New Testament. It is the last meal that Jesus and his disciples will have together before Jesus is crucified. Jesus has just made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem; he and his disciples get together to celebrate the Passover, the Jewish holiday of the escape from bondage in Egypt. It should be a joyous occasion, but all is not well. Jesus predicts that one of his disciples will betray him and that the apostle Peter would disown him. There is a sense of impending doom, but religious Christians believe that it will soon be followed by the glory of Christ's resurrection.

The structure of the painting is striking in several ways. The foreground is a plain white tablecloth that hides the legs of the seated and standing individuals and focuses the eye on what is occurring above the level of the table. Christ is in the center and all the lines of perspective lead to him. His head is highlighted by the center of the three windows. The seated figures to the left, lean away from Christ and the figures to the right lean toward him, apparently engaging Christ in conversation. The only standing figures are the two men to the right of Christ.

"The Last Supper" 1498, Leonardo da Vinci

An Analysis of the Argument in "The Fast Food Supper"

Jacob Thompson's illustration is obviously an argument against eating fast food. Let's analyze it according to Aristotle's three rhetorical please of logos, pathos, and ethos by answering the following questions.

    1.   What is the relationship between Mr. Thompson's illustration and Da Vinci's "Last Supper"? Suggested Response: Clearly, "The Fast Food Supper" seeks to remind the view of Da Vinci's "The Last Supper". It presents a group of people eating at a table with a white table cloth in the foreground. The three windows of Da Vinci's painting are present in the background. The people on the left, lean away from the central figure, who, like Jesus is turned toward the people on the right of the painting. One of these figures is standing, as in Da Vinci's painting. In addition, the name of the painting, "The Fast Food Supper," evokes the title of Da Vinci's painting.

    2.   Why does our young illustrator want to link "The Fast Food Supper" with Da Vinci's "The Last Supper?" Which Aristotelian rhetorical appeal does this relate to? Suggested Response: "The Last Supper" is a painting of an important and serious religious moment. By alluding to that painting, Mr. Thompson is telling us that the illustration refers to something very important. He is also linking his message to that of the important religious message of the Last Supper and of Da Vinci's painting. He is telling us that his illustration is about something serious and important. In addition, this is an attempt to link his message to the Da Vinci painting and Christ's last supper with his disciples, and to thereby give it credibility. This is the appeal to ethos.

    3.   What is the importance of the only standing figure in the illustration? Which Aristotelian rhetorical appeal does this relate to? Suggested Response: The figure of the Grim Reaper, with his bloody scythe, tells us again that this illustration is about something important, life and death. The Grim Reaper's hand is extended to the hand of the central figure. Clearly, the Reaper is about to take that hand and lead the man away; the poor man is about to die. This gives the argument made in the illustration the element of pathos, the appeal to emotion.

    4.   What is the narrative of the logical argument in this illustration? What elements of the illustration make those arguments? Suggested Response: The argument is that fast food will make you fat and unhealthy, and that it will kill you. The people shown at the banquet are stuffing their faces and, as shown by the discarded food wrappers on the table and their gross obesity, they have been gorging on fast food for some time. The Grim Reaper is about to take the central figure. The face of the Grim Reaper is a hamburger, showing that it is the fast food that is the agent of death. This is the logos of the illustration.

    5.   Visuals can convey irony. What is the irony conveyed by "The Fast Food Supper?" Suggested Response: Food is supposed to nourish. This food kills.

    6.   What is the difference between the looming deaths of Christ in Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" and the unnamed central character in Thompson's "The Fast Food Supper?" Suggested Response: For Christ there is the coming resurrection. For the central character in the illustration, there is no resurrection, only the rendezvous with the Grim Reaper.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.   Write an essay on the religious and artistic allusions in Jacob Thompson's "The Fast Food Supper."

2.   Write an essay analyzing the logos, pathos, and ethos of Jacob Thompson's "The Fast Food Supper."

3.   Do you believe that Jacob Thompson's "The Fast Food Supper" is an effective argument? Write a short essay supporting your conclusion.



Parenting Points: Analyze the illustration with your child going over the points made in the Guide.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!


This Learning Guide written by James Frieden. It was published on October 20, 2015

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