Blogger Raises Worldwide Awareness For School Lunches
June 19, 2012

Blogger Raises Worldwide Awareness For School Lunches

Connie K. Ho for

"My dad says I should call myself Veritas Ex Gustu, truth from tasting in Latin but who knows Latin? You can call me Veg.” These were the introductory words posted by 9-year-old Martha Payne, the blogger behind NeverSeconds. Her blog, which features images of school lunches complete with a rating scale, recently launched an international debate on food and nutrition.

Payne decided to start blogging at the end of April about school lunches in Scotland. Each post included a description, a rating, and a photo of the meal. Since then, the blog has become a viral internet sensation and started a minor political controversy in the town. The Argyll and Bute Council, the local government council in Scotland, banned Payne on June 14 from taking any more photos of cafeteria food, stating "the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs."

In an interview with BBC Radio, David Payne, Martha´s Dad, commented on the actions of the council to stop his daughter from continuing her blog.

"I understand that it's brought pressure from around the world and media interest, but that is really out of our control,” remarked D. Payne. "But we are very supportive of the school - the fact that she has been encouraged to blog and she got permission to do this is testament to them. Everyone in the kitchens has been wonderful to Martha and she enjoys going into lunch every day."

Last Friday, Roddy McCuish, the council chief, decided to retract the previous statement that banned Martha from photographing food lunches.

"There is no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute Council. There never has been and there never will be," remarked McCuish in a CNN article. "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."

The Argyll and Bute Council also posted a statement on its website on Friday that stated it would hold a "school meals summit" later this summer. The summit would be a gathering of students, council officials, and school catering staff to "get this issue right."

"By so doing Martha Payne and her friends will have had a strong and lasting influence not just on school meals, but on the whole of Argyll & Bute," wrote authors of the statement.

Early on, the photos on the blog created buzz and interest. Soon, students from around the world began sending in photos of their own school lunches. As the blog gained in popularity, M. Payne was supported in her endeavors by well-known chefs, including Nick Nairn and Jamie Olivier.

"Big news, I have gone viral! 105,000 people have visited my blog and thanks to all of you. Even bigger news my dad got a tweet from Jamie Oliver! 'Shocking but inspirational blog. Keep going, Big love from Jamie x," reported M. Payne on May 10 on her blog.

With her blog, M. Payne has been able to raise money for Scottish charity Mary´s Meals. A link on the blog is connected to a fundraising drive and, when the ban was announced, donations increased from £3,000 to £80,000. She has raised more than £32,000 ($50,000), surpassing her original goal of £7,000.

"We are wondering where it might end and how many children are going to be fed as a result of Martha and her supporters,” Abeer Macintyre, a spokesperson of Mary´s Meals, told CNN. "There are thousands of children's lives that will be changed today because of this.”

On June 18, Payne announced that, with the help of supporters, she had raised £85,429.63 for Mary´s Meals. This amount would help provide for a kitchen in Lirangwe Primary School in Blantyre, Malawi and another 5,800 dinners for children. She decided to name the kitchen “Friends of SecondMeals.”

“We´ve been speaking to Martha and she decided it should be named after all the people who have supported her blog by making donations,” remarked charity founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barlow in a Telegraph article. “We thought about giving it a name such as Martha´s Kitchen but she was keen the name should reflect all the people who donated.”

Hundreds of people commented after the news was announced.

“I hope that the money you have raised goes to help a lot of people. Feel proud. Well done for your efforts,” wrote reader Paul Murphy on the post.