Scottish 9-year-old Martha Payne's ban on food blogging lifted by local council

Martha Payne via ZDNet

Martha Payne school lunch photo
A photo of a school meal from Martha Payne's NeverSeconds blog
Martha Payne via ZDNet

(CBS/AP) Martha Payne, a 9-year-old blogger from Scotland who set off a brief international outcry when local authorities banned her food blog containing images of her school's meals, has won her blog back.

9-year-old's blog shames school into changing food

Since setting up her NeverSeconds blog six weeks ago, Martha's images of uninspiring school meals - one consisted of two croquettes, a plain cheeseburger, three slices of cucumber and an ice pop - drew international attention. The blog, which kicked off as a writing project and to help raise money for a school-meals charity, has since drawn more than 2 million hits.

Martha, who lives in the coastal town of Lochgilphead, about 130 miles west of Edinburgh, gave each meal a "food-o-meter" rating, and offered an assessment of its contents.

"I'd really like to know where the chicken comes from," she wrote in an entry about chicken fajitas, "so I am going to write to the lady in charge to ask. I know it comes from a hen but I'd like to know where the hen lived."

She'd also give the meals a "Health Rating." The cheeseburger, croquettes and ice pop meal - with three cucumbers on the side - was scored a 4/10 by the 9-year-old.

Local officials weren't amused, and ordered the schoolgirl to stop taking pictures.

In a statement, Argyll and Bute Council said Payne's photos were misleading and had caused distress to cafeteria staff. The council was particularly irked by a report about the blog in Scotland's Daily Record newspaper headlined "Time to fire the dinner ladies."

The council complained of "unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service" and said the blog "misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils."

As a result, it said, "a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen."

Martha's father David Payne said the blog was never intended to make the food look unappetizing. It includes such positive assessments as, "Lunch was really nice today and it helped cheer me up."

"The last photograph of a meal at school that she blogged, she gave it 10 out of 10," Payne told the BBC.

On a Thursday post titled "Goodbye" Martha bid farewell to their readers.

"I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today," she wrote. "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. Goodbye, VEG." [sic]

The ban quickly became an online talking point Friday, with free speech group the Index on Censorship even weighing in on Payne's behalf. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tweeted "Stay strong Martha" to his more than 2.5 million followers.

The Internet storm was quickly followed by an official U-turn. Council leader Roddy McCuish said he had ordered officials to lift the ban on cafeteria photos.

He praised Martha as "an enterprising and imaginative pupil."

"There is no place for censorship in this council and never will be whilst I am leader," McCuish said.

Amid the blaze of publicity, donations to Mary's Meals, the charity the blog had been promoting, climbed from 3,000 pounds ($4,700) to almost 20,000 pounds ($31,000) Friday.

  • CBS News Staff

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