Nobody really noticed when a 9-year-old girl in Scotland started blogging in April about her school lunches. A couple of months later, she’s forced changes in her school’s lunch, embarrassed her local government and made the local politicians look like fools. It’s not a bad start.
Martha Payne had a simple idea. She wanted to take a picture of her school lunch each day and evaluate it, based on how she liked it and how healthy she thought it was. So NeverSeconds was born. Her mother is a physician and her father is a farmer, so it’s natural for her to think about food and health, because she’s grown up hearing about both.
As people started hearing about her blog and reading about it, school officials took notice. They even made some changes. By May 18, the school was allowing students to get unlimited salads, fruit and bread, which had always been the policy, but nobody had ever told the lunchroom workers.
So things were going well for Martha, who was posting anonymously as “Veg.” She was having a great time writing about her lunches. She was receiving pictures of other kids’ lunches from around the world. She had even started raising money to build a kitchen for a school in India. Then newspapers in Great Britain started writing about her project, pointing to the deficiencies of the food. That’s when the problems started.
Martha’s father had to meet with local officials, who wanted her to tone down her criticism of the lunches, but Dave Payne didn’t think that was fair.
“Martha writes very honestly, she takes pictures and she doesn’t lie, and I didn’t want to feel that she couldn’t tell the truth,” Payne told the Guardian.
Local politicians couldn’t deal with a 9-year-old telling the truth, so they made the big decision. They banned Martha from bringing a camera to school to take her pictures. On Thursday, Martha posted a sad entry entitled “Goodbye”:
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.
If the story had ended here, it would be just another maddening story about politicians abusing their power when they’re scared of the truth. But because Martha’s blog had attracted attention, the story about the ban went viral. People around the Internet were outraged. Here’s typical coverage, from the tech-oriented site, Wired.
Over the next day, the site’s number of hits jumped by a million. The contact information for the politicians was posted all over and outraged people started contacting them. As a result, the politicians reversed their decision on Friday. The local council leader — who had censored Martha earlier in the week — had changed his mind, apparently.
“There’s no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute council and there never has been and there never will be,” he said. “It’s a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I’ve certainly done that.”
Martha set out to raise £7,000 for the school kitchen in India. Because of the publicity, her fundraising had hit £55,000 by late Friday night. When Martha wrote her most recent blog entry on Friday — announcing that she would be back on Monday — she seemed most excited about the fact that her fundraising was going to be able to buy kitchens for multiple schools:
I think you know why I don’t have a picture today but I will have on Monday! 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.
I worried yesterday that I would never reach enough money to buy a Mary’s Meal kitchen in Malawi (31 seconds!) but we have raised a total of £45,889.46 which is more than one kitchen! It could be many kitchens or one kitchen feeding many children for years.
A small thank you isn’t enough so here’s a big THANK YOU to you all!
See you on Monday,
It’s a great story. Martha was a mature and responsible little girl. Her parents supported her in doing the right thing. The people of the Internet helped make sure politicians did the right thing. It’s one of those rare controversial stories that ended well for everybody.