Girl’s School Lunch Blog Stirs Up International Controversy

After an outpouring of support, a ban on a 9-year-old’s blog is overturned.
Can a middle-school blogger defeat the city council? Thanks to international support, Martha Payne did just that. (Image: NeverSeconds)
Jun 15, 2012· 1 MIN READ· 8 COMMENTS
Nichol Nelson hails from Minnesota, but has worked in food journalism in New York and Los Angeles for more than a decade. She served as an editor with Gourmet magazine for six years, and has contributed to several other digital and print food publications.

The tweet came early Friday morning: “Stay strong Martha.”

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver—a major supporter of healthy school lunch fare—was the author of the tweet, and he urged his 2.3 million followers to retweet the message to show support for a nine-year-old Scottish girl banned from blogging about her school lunches.

That tweet, along with a massive outpouring of international support, led local officials to reverse their actions, reports BBC News.

Martha Payne, of Argyll, Scotland, set up her blog, NeverSeconds, to document the lackluster nutritional value of her school’s lunches. She photographed each meal she was served at Lochgilphead Primary School, then rated it with a “food-o-meter” and a health rating. The ratings were often low—a recent lackluster cheeseburger merited only a “2.” (Payne also has a sense of humor. Each entry also lists “pieces of hair” as a category.)

In addition to keeping tabs on her lunches, Payne was also using the blog to raise money for Mary’s Meals, a global hunger charity. But school officials weren’t keen on their lunches being showcased on the web, and last Thursday, Payne posted a “goodbye” on her site:

“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office,” she wrote. “I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.”

An explanatory note posted on the blog by her father read: “I contacted Argyll and Bute Council...and they told me it was their decision to ban Martha’s photography.”

What prompted school officials to ask Payne to shut down her blog? A story in the local paper, which boasted the headline, “Time to fire the dinner ladies.” (Lunch is called “dinner” in this area of the world.)

The local government agency, the Argyll and Bute Council, said press coverage of the blog caused the cafeteria staff to fear for their jobs.

So the council banned Payne from taking pictures of her lunches, claiming “the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs,” reports the BBC.

That resolve didn’t last long. On Friday, council chief Roddy McCuish reversed himself in a radio interview.

“There is no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute Council. There never has been and there never will be,” he said.

“I have just instructed senior officials to withdraw the ban on pictures in the school dining hall. It’s a good thing to change your mind, and I have certainly done that.”

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