For the past two months, one of my favourite reads has been Never Seconds, a blog started by nine-year-old Martha Payne of western Scotland to document the unappealing, non-nutritious lunches she was being served in her public primary school. Payne, whose mother is a doctor and father has a small farming property, started blogging in early May and went viral in days.
She had a million viewers within a few weeks and two million this morning; was written up in Time, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and a number of food blogs; and got support from TV cheflebrity Jamie Oliver, whose series "Jamie's School Dinners" kicked off school-food reform in England.
Well, goodbye to all that.
This afternoon, Martha (who goes by "Veg" on the blog) posted that she will have to shut down her blog, because she has been forbidden to take a camera into school. She said:
"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."
A little later, her father Dave (who helped her set up the blog but has been hands-off on the content), added to her post:
"Veg's Dad, Dave, here. I felt it's important to add a few bits of info to the blog tonight. Martha's school have been brilliant and supportive from the beginning and I'd like to thank them all. I contacted Argyll and Bute Council when Martha told me what happened at school today and they told me it was their decision to ban Martha's photography."
Can we all agree how monumentally stupid this is? Here we have a kid who got excited enough about feeding children well that she not only changed the food in her own district - within two weeks, officials were allowing children in her school to have "unlimited salads, fruit and bread," which apparently was the policy all along only someone forgot to say so — but also got children around the world excited about their lunches too. Over the blog's seven weeks, she received images of school lunches from Germany, Japan, Finland, Illinois, Spain, Washington State, a school in Atlanta that keeps kosher and so on.
And no, to stave off the inevitable snark, she's not a bratty entitled kid. Here's how we know: By her 19th post, she decided she'd gotten enough attention that she wanted to redirect it somewhere useful, and she asked her followers to donate to a charity called Mary's Meals that funds school food in Africa. She started off the donations by sending £50 that she got from a magazine that reprinted some of her photos. By today, according to her father's note, she had raised £2000.
We anguish about getting kids to be enthusiastic about healthy, sustainable food — to not prefer the bad stuff, not waste the good stuff, and not be entitled little monsters who whine about when their next chicken nugget is arriving. And then a child emerges who, out of her own creativity and curiosity, does all of that, and gets other children around the world excited about doing it too. And then she gets told she is offending the powers that be, and is slapped down.
Those would be the powers who told a nine-year-old that she was making "bad choices" out of the food being served at her school, without ever taking responsibility for what they had allowed to be offered. (Which is not necessarily the norm for school lunches in Scotland, as this piece from the Daily Record makes clear.) Infuriating.
If you'd like to tell the Argyll and Bute Council, who made the decision, exactly how idiotic they've been, their webpage is here. (And they are @argyllandbute on Twitter.) If you'd like to send support to Martha, you can leave a comment on her final post. (Her email is on the same page.) And if you'd like to honour her ingenuity by supporting the school-food charity she picked, the donation page is here. (While I was writing this post, the news of the no-photography rule was posted by the Argyll News and the media site STV-Glasgow. The Argyll and Bute Council has not responded.)
Thanks @MJRobbins for flagging NeverSeconds' goodbye post on Twitter.
Image: Never Seconds
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