A controversial ban preventing a nine-year-old girl from photographing her school meals has been lifted following a storm of protest on the internet. Martha Payne, from Argyll in Scotland, has now recorded more than three million hits on her NeverSeconds blog.
Argyll and Bute Council said press coverage of the blog had led catering staff to fear for their jobs but council leader Roddy McCuish later told the BBC he had instructed senior officials to lift the ban immediately.
Martha began publishing photographs of her Lochgilphead Primary School lunches on 30 April.
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Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is The World. There are a lot of food blogs on the web, but not all of them get some three million hits in just six weeks. Martha Payne doesn’t write your average food blog though. Her subject? School lunches and she knows them well. She’s nine. Martha calls her blog Never Seconds. She posts pictures of her lunch at the school cafeteria and she rates the food. Now, this week school officials told Martha to stop taking pictures of her food. Today though they changed their minds. The BBC’s Colin Blane in Glasgow can tell us now why they did change their mind and allow her to write on the blog once again.
Colin Blane: Well, the ban didn’t come around initially because the reviews that she was giving to her meals were so bad. In fact, the final review was 10 out of 10. I think what happened was a Scottish newspaper had a headline which said the dinner ladies at the school should be fired. It was a big tongue and cheek, but the council of Argyle and Bute took exception; they said Martha’s photos which were taken in the school canteen must stop because they represented only a fraction of the choices available. And of course what followed from that because she had so many followers was a torrent of criticism of that decision from around the world, on Twitter and on Martha’s website. Now that meant that the council was under pressure and they backed off and reversed the ban.
Mullins: Now, as you’re suggesting, Martha’s blog has gotten an awful lot of support from all corners and just looking at it here one of the most recent pictures that she has of one of her meals is mac-n-cheese with a little bit of broccoli. It looks like orange jello on the side. She says, macaroni and cheese at the school is so creamy, so nice to have with crunch radishes and peppers. You don’t hear that from a lot of 9-year-olds. On the foodometer, or food-o-meter she gave it a 10 out of 10, mouthfuls, 37 mouthfuls, pieces of hairs, 0. Now, it sounds like she puts a lot of thought into what she’s doing here, maybe that’s one of the reasons that she’s attracted so many people who also contribute interesting pictures of their own foods in various cafeterias around the world. Martha’s father, David, is one of her biggest supporters. Let’s hear from him now. He’s talking about what gets Martha going and what has accrued so much support for her, even among British chefs.
David Payne: It’s of interest to Martha what she’s eating and as a parent, it’s of interest to me what she’s eating. It was really infused people to look again at the issue of school dinners and the support of Nick Naim and Jamie Oliver. It really just kinda helps keep the issue at the forefront and it does show children, young children, do care about what they eat. And here’s an example of a child saying this is what I like. And I look at some of her ratings on the food, the way she gives it a low health rating, well I think it’s healthy or vice versa, but that’s how a 9-year-old sees her food.
Mullins: Now, as you said, the ratings she gives are generally pretty high. The reason for doing this blog though in the beginning isn’t necessarily just to rate the food, but she was doing it as a charity effort; she was raising money for a food charity, correct?
Blane: That’s right, this is a charity which provides food for school children in Malawi, and they have described Martha’s efforts as amazing. They have said that she will be feeding hundreds of children through the efforts of herself and those who’ve donated money. Her target was 7,000 pounds, which is about $10,000. She’s way over that, five times over that at this point, so she’s done really well. The other thing she was doing, it was a writing project. She’s interested in becoming a journalist and my goodness, she’s had something of a lesson in how modern day journalism can go viral.
Mullins: Can you explain just why you think people have become so interested in Martha and Martha’s blog?
Blane: I think it’s interesting. Everybody has been to school. Everybody’s had a school meal at sometime, so it has a universal appeal. And the way it’s written, it’s so simple, it’s so honest, it’s so naive at times. I don’t think there’s much criticism in there and I think that’s why there was such a strong reaction worldwide. People thought that the council were being draconian and in a way it really was an infringement of freedom of speech. So it’s good that the council I think has backed off and I think perhaps that will in the end give them some better publicity, but in many ways has been a public relations nightmare for them.
Mullins: Colin Blane in Glasgow from the BBC, thank you.
Blane: You’re welcome, thank you very much.
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