When nine-year old Martha Payne began a food blog last year, chronicling the paucity of her school lunches, she was not prepared to become a social media star. Payne’s blog, entitled “NeverSeconds,” began as an innocuous school project that showed pictures of her cafeteria meals along with a “Food-o-meter” rating their healthiness on a scale of 10. Suffice it to say, not many got close to 10. The school was initially supportive of Payne, an aspiring journalist whose dad helped her construct the website. Within a week, however, Neverseconds, was being posted on social networking sites and receiving 100,000 visitors a day, earning her a congratulatory tweet from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. National media was soon running headlines like “Time to fire the dinner ladies,” with Payne and her school identified.
A few weeks after the blog started, Payne was ushered into the head teacher’s office and told she could not take any more photos of school dinners. It transpired that Payne’s local council, Argyll and Bute, had reacted to the adverse publicity by imposing a ban. As ever, the cover-up proved to be worse than the crime. The council’s censorship provoked an even greater backlash. Two hours later, a shamed council leader, Roddy McCuish, appeared on national radio to announce the immediate reversal of the ban.
“There’s no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute council and there never has been and there never will be,” told McCuish on BBC Radio 4.
“I’ve just instructed senior officials to immediately withdraw the ban on pictures from the school dining hall. It’s a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I’ve certainly done that.”
Let’s hope that contrition extends to improving the school meals in his schools. In the meantime, Payne has raised enough money, through her charity, Mary’s Meals (http://www.justgiving.com/neverseconds), to build a new kitchen at a school in Malawi. Her blog continues at http://www.neverseconds.blogspot.co.uk/.