When nine-year-old Brit Martha Payne first started her Never Seconds blog back in April, she could never have imagined what a stir it would cause.
The blog is a record of Martha’s lunches at her school in Scotland, with each post comprising a photo, some comments and a rating based on taste and healthiness. Adding a bit of humor, she also lists how many “pieces of hair” she finds in each meal. Her school had given her permission to go ahead with the blog.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, known as much for his campaigns to improve school meals as for his culinary skills, introduced Martha’s blog a wider audience last month when he tweeted to his millions of followers, “Shocking but inspirational blog. Keep going. Big love from Jamie x.”
A big part of the blog also involves Martha’s efforts to raise money for charity Mary’s Meals, an international movement which helps set up school feeding projects in some of the world’s poorest communities.
However, despite Martha’s honest food-related comments — both good and bad — her local council this week decided to ban her from taking any more photographs of the meals.
“The photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils,” it said in a statement, “so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.”
The council also claimed some of the catering staff at the school were worried they might lose their jobs after an article with the headline ‘Time to fire the dinner ladies’ appeared in the Scottish Daily Record newspaper.
On Thursday, Martha posted an entry on her blog about what had happened:
This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.
You can probably guess what happened next. Users of social networking sites weighed in, demanding the ban be overturned. A local lawmaker joined in too, calling the decision “daft.” Even Jamie Oliver returned to the fray, tweeting, “Stay strong Martha”, before urging his army of followers to retweet the message.
It was all starting to get rather serious. Meetings were arranged between the council and Martha’s father, while reports emerged of the catering staff being reduced to tears over the news coverage. By the middle of Friday, however, the council announced it had reversed its decision.
“It is a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I have certainly done that,” council leader Roddy McCuish told the BBC.
Martha was understandably overjoyed about the council’s U-turn, blogging, “Thanks to everyone that has helped to get my blog back on track. I would have missed writing it a lot and I’m looking forward to sharing my dinners and yours.”
One of the happy results of all the publicity is that donations through the schoolgirl’s blog to the Mary’s Meals charity have skyrocketed this week.
And would you believe, Martha’s efforts also appear to have had an effect on the quality of the dishes served at her school. “I’ve been following this blog since the third entry and I have to say I’ve noticed a vast improvement in the meals,” a commenter wrote on the BBC website.
[Images: Martha Payne]