UPDATED: Scottish town council shuts down 9-y-o girl's wildly popular school lunch blog

A nine-year-old girl in Scotland has been ordered to abandon NeverSeconds, her wildly popular blog, which features photos and commentary of the food served in her school. The blog began as a writing exercise undertaken with school permission, and was an implicit critique of the nutritional value and quality of the food. Over time, its proprietress Martha Payne branched out into raising money for school meals in east Africa. She became a minor celeb, with coverage in newspapers and blogs, and attention from celebrity chef and school food campaigner Jamie Oliver. Yesterday, she published a post called "Goodbye," in which she explains that she has been ordered to cease blogging by the headteacher, and expresses sorrow that she won't be able to continue her project. Her father clarifies that the shutdown order came from the local Argyll and Bute town council.

Here's what Payne wrote, followed by some words from her dad:

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.


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.

It is a shame that a blog that today went through 2 million hits, which has inspired debates at home and abroad and raised nearly £2000 for charity is forced to end.

Payne's blog inspired correspondents from schools around the world to write in with their own photos, and was a burgeoning nexus of a real community of interest among children. It's a terrible, stupid thing that Argyll and Bute council did.

Girl banned from taking photos of school meals for hit blog

Update: The Argyll and Bute council have rescinded the ban. The Guardian's Peter Walker reports:

Roddy McCuish, the council leader, told BBC Radio 4 that he had ordered an immediate reverse of the ban, imposed earlier this week. He said: "There's no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute council and there never has been and there never will be.

"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."

It marks a complete reverse of the council's position earlier this morning, when a statement directly attacked the NeverSeconds blog, set up by Martha just six weeks before as a writing project, for "unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs".

The statement added: "The council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the NeverSeconds blog for obvious reasons, despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils. However, this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing."

Payne's supporters have been tweeting photos of their food in solidarity with young Ms Payne, using the #mylunchformartha tag.


    1. Her town’s ban on children using commas, though, appears to continue unabated.

        1. When I’m making a joke about how this ostensibly school-approved writing project that’s garnered national attention continues to have such poor grammar?  Yes.

          (Edited to put emphasis on the word whose definition some people need to look up.)

          1. … of a 9 year old?

            Apparently you don’t have any old ladies to kick or kids to take the candy from… so… yeah… I guess criticizing the grammar of a 9 year old is the next best thing to do.

          2. No, I understood that it was meant as a joke. What I don’t understand is the pedantic finger-wagging, in jest or not, at a 9-year-old. I also don’t think tripping blind people is funny. Just me I guess.

          3. We got it.  You were making a joke.

            About a 9-year-old girl trying to make the world a better place.

            Speaking of looking things up, go Google ‘pilkunnussija’.

      1. We don’t get jelly often, maybe about twice in every 4 weeks, and I like to put it on my spoon and suck it through my teeth

        Not just grouchy, but incorrect.  

    1. What’s really cool is that she appears to have taken in something like £36,000 today.   So maybe there’s a method to the town council’s madness…   At the very least, their actions have done a lot of good, intentional or not.

  1. If children are given the freedom to blog then the terrorists have already won.  Who knows where this will lead?  A lemonade stand?

  2. It’s been overturned by the Council’s “leader”, and a conciliatory statement issued.  Before the conciliatory statement was issued, the Council issued a defensive statement (since then memory-holed) saying, basically, that this was necessary because the criticism of the lunches was unfair and made people feel bad.

    A quick commenter captured the original defensive statement and posted it on my blog post about this:   http://www.popehat.com/2012/06/14/argyll-and-bute-council-afraid-of-mild-and-polite-criticism-little-girls-pictures-of-tater-tots/comment-page-1/#comment-842925

    1. If they thought they felt bad over the criticism of the lunches maybe they should have eaten some of them to get a better understanding of bad.

    2. You seem to present this as the fault of bad government. Actually this is an example of bad bureaucracy and jobsworths. Note how quickly the elected representative stepped in and slapped them down. Something that could never happen with a private corporate run institution! Privatisation takes our power away from us.

      (I’m not a regular reader of your blog so if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, sorry).

        1. That is why we have to stop them privatising shit and devolving their responsibility. Or we’ll just end up with a figurehead democracy (worse even than our figurehead monarchy).

      1.  Did you see the “I changed my mind” bit?  The elected official in question only “slapped them down” after he saw which way the wind was going to blow and changed course.  Let’s not pretend the decision was a principled one.  But at least it’s a sign that politicians are beginning to understand the Streisand effect.

      2. It is a case of bad governance when they even have the capacity to make such arbitrary decisions.  That isn’t an argument for privatization as a magical solution, it is an argument for the reduction of the power of governments to have any right to limit such activities in the first place.

        There isn’t some polar scale with sprawling monopolistic corporations on one side and sprawling worthless government bureaucracy on the other.  You can… you know… pick neither.

        It is great and all that the council reversed their decision, but if they have that sort of arbitrary power, who else has been steamrolled who wasn’t able to muster the publicity to defend themselves? 

        Hell, I look at my own town and see much of this.  The hoops you have to jump through to open up a simple, local, non-franchised business are epic because a bunch of local governing bodies have, at every turn, gobbled up the power to have the right to have their say.  It only takes on asshole to shut you down.

        Governments seek power for powers sake, and there is almost no force at work against that.  Even supposed “conservative” parties who mouth words about smaller governments have not seen a governing power that they can say no to.

  3. Atleast she did not end up in Food Gitmo… or some sort of Kinder-Dartmoor for pointing out how truly horrifying school lunches are.

  4. Maybe they should just improve the food.  That looks awful.  I would say NeverFirsts.

  5. I guess Scotland has some different ideas on free speech. I could see a school limiting a student’s right to use a camera in the cafeteria (though I wouldn’t agree with it), but I’m astonished that a town council would have any authority over what anyone writes on a blog.

      1. And unfortunately even the land of the written constitution is seeing its 1st Amendment eroded continually, too.  Ugh, we live in the stone age.

        1.  Coming from the land of the *written* constitution: the 1st amendment erodes pretty effectively no matter what it’s written on.

      2. Thanks, Cory. That was an enlightening google search. I don’t think I’d been introduced to that concept before, and it adds some important perspective to stories from the U.K.

    1. I could see a school limiting a student’s right to use a camera…

      Same thing occurred to me. I’m pretty sure that in my daughter’s elementary school (she’s 9 too) they’re not allowed to walk around with cell phones (where most of the cameras are these days). Given the distraction they could create in class, I can’t say that I’m particularly against that rule (and I’m a civil libertarian).

      1. But it wasn’t the school that had a problem with this, in fact permission was gained upfront by the girl. This was effectively the council stepping in and removing that permission. I’m surprised that councils have any say over the running of a school.

      2. Based on my limited experience teaching in American public schools, all kids have cell phones all the time and use them to text and cheat pretty much non-stop.  If you try to take them away or prevent their use you get screamed at by parents who want to “be able to reach their children in the case of an emergency.”

    2. Since the ban was retracted rapidly (congrats on common sense there), and since it’s not fair to expect it of a 9yo girl anyway, we don’t get to see what would happen if she just asked “what legal authority do the local council *really* have to forbid me from photographing my own food and writing a blog about it?”  The answer would of course be, none.

      If you want freedom, push back HARD when someone tries to take it away. A little measured overreaction now may save you having to throw petrol bombs later, and that stuff is going to get *expensive* you know :)

  6. The BBC article makes it transparently clear the the council’s action was a simple “kill the messenger action” indicating their desire to protect food staff rather than children, an act directly against an apparently-legitimate concern for the children’s well-being. I wonder if the parents will notice this and care?

    1. Indeed, contrary to their assertion of “unwarranted attacks,” the articles would appear to actually be highly warranted!

  7. I’m just happy to see that Scottish school lunches are as shitacular as they are in the U.S. We really do have a Special Relationship, don’t we?

  8. I’m proud to see we have exported our American meals to Scotland. Only in America, we would serve two hot dogs, pour butter on the canned corn and serve six to eight of those fried turds. And the cup would be twice as big and filled with chocolate milk.

    1. And remove that yogurt and replace it with a cupcake.

      Sounds pretty much like what I ate in school…

  9. From the beeb:

    Publicity caused by the ban helped her smash through her £7,000 target …

    Doubtless Argyll and Bute council will take credit for this sophisticated and subtle plan of theirs to help out.


    Sometimes stupid thoughtless actions are good for the world.
    Go figure.

    1. Lemoutan,

      Is there some reason that you keep putting your blockquotes in italics? Do you hate your fellow readers and want their eyes to bleed?

      1. Hmm. The italics look rather gorgeous on my equipment’s rendering of 10pt Times Roman. I’ve been assuming fellow readers have been given a visual feast – rather contrary to the reason you suggest. But your objection to my assumption is noted. I shall cease and desist forthwith.

  10. From the article: 
    “He said the council had been concerned about criticisms of dining hall staff in an article about Martha’s blog in the national media, but accepted that it should have raised the issue with the newspaper concerned rather than taking action against the schoolgirl.
    “I don’t know what went wrong yet, but I will do my very best to find out,” he said.”

    What went wrong here is obvious.  Though they knew that they “should have raised the issue with the newspaper,” the council chose to go after the weakest person available to them, in this case a schoolgirl.  The council acted like any other schoolyard bully.  

  11. I’ve known children to ask for that lunch, that one right there, excessive slathering of ketchup and all.

    1. Yes. Of course, it may not be the school’s responsibility to give the kid whatever they ask for.

      1. When they try to get fried foods, sodas etc. out of the schools everybody whines about “the nanny state”.

        I’m for banning ketchup on hotdogs.

        1. I should tell you sometimes about the shit that I see people feed their kids in the organized stuff we do with my son (T ball, swim class, etc.) It’s like people are trying to kill the little bastards. I can see why they’d object to getting rid of this dreck.

          1. @Navin_Johnson:disqus Literally right on. With 16 ozs of Mountain Dew. They look at my kid like he’s crazy when he has raisins and water . . .

          2.  D, sorry to go off topic, but how do you quote somebody like you just did with me, to respond to them directly? 

          3. @Navin_Johnson:disqus use the @ symbol and a drop down menu with names appears. It doesn’t always, and I don’t know why. Hurry, see this before the mods nuke it!

          4. Nah, Aunty Noose is more frustrated with Disqus than you are, D.

            Edit: Er, that’s a reply to your comment aboot mods nooking.

  12. maybe teh skool should serve decent food instead of sugar, crap and the usual junk… the example above looks exactly like teh stuff they served me 25 odd years ago, times have changed, research indicates this type of food is unhealthy at best and potentially dangerous if eaten every day —  perhaps teh bean counters should focus their response to this critique by serving real food instead of silencing teh critic. 

  13. “It’s a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I’ve certainly done that.”

    more of this, please.

    1. Yeah, we *really* need to remind politicians and voters that changing your minds in that face of (well, ideally, evidence, but I’ll take poublic outcry for now) is a good thing.

    2. Absolutely!  It is SO refreshing to see a public official say, “Well.  THAT was f’ing stupid.  What the hell were we thinking?  Carry on!” once in a while.  That is a _much_ better way to get my vote than wasting more time and adding insult to injury by pretending you can somehow justify a clearly monumentally BAD decision.  I mean:

      “However, this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing.” 

      Really?  Because if I ever need to be protected from distress caused by the whimsical comments of a 9-year-old girl, I hope I still have enough strength left to throw myself in front of a bus…

  14. Erica who works in a school kitchen in San Francisco, California, America (12 seconds, I got lucky!) sent me this photo of a student’s lunch. ‘It was pulled pork taco salad day with brown rice and cantaloupe. We always have chicken noodle as well as a vegetable soup–in this picture she has chosen the potato leek soup. Though this wasn’t my lunch, I rated it since I did eat after the kids. :)’

    Geez, Foodie Elementary.

  15. I’ve seen (and heard described, right down to the aftermath) enough meals in the Chicago Public School system to know that the above-pictured lunch would be heralded as an amazing improvement, both from a nutritional and digestible point of view.

    Except, of course, that hotdogs are NEVER to be served with ketchup.  Mustard is required, and pickle relish, onions and/or celery salt are optional.

    /Chicago hotdog rant

  16. This kid’s (well done) blog reminds me why I always pocketed my lunch money as a kid and skipped the cafeteria food – it was disgusting!

  17. 50 posts, and I’m the first to take issue with “There’s no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute council and there never has been and there never will be.”

    Seems to me like there was (is?) a place for censorship in your council, until you get caught. Changing history in your retraction response doesn’t make it any better, and in fact minimizes the efficacy of your appology.

  18. “There’s no place for censorship in Argyll and Bute council and there never has been and there never will be.”*
    *”Well, um, especially if we get caught doing it and enough people find out about it.”

  19. If you want to know why so much crap has been served to kids in the U.S.

    More fruits, veggies in U.S. school lunch rules


    Lawmakers altered the school lunch guidelines in November, when they barred the USDA from limiting the weekly servings of french fries and ensured that pizza continued to be counted as a vegetable portion because of its tomato paste.

    Trade groups representing frozen-pizza sellers like ConAgra Foods Inc and Schwan Food Co, as well as french fry distributors McCain Foods Ltd and J.R. Simplot Co, were instrumental in blocking rule changes affecting those items.

    Those actions caused a public uproar but won cheers from critics of the HHFKA rules, who cited the new regulations as an example of overreach by federal bureaucrats meddling in the food decisions of families.

  20. I don’t know what the council was so worried about.  Those lunches look way better than anything my schools ever offered.  And she has different choices every day?!  My schools’ menus never changed.

  21.  I love to see people geting introduced to the internet.

    School officials, Internet.  Internet, School officials.   School officials, the internet will now teach you how not to think like dictators.

  22. When I read about the ban this morning I knew it would be reversed after the council got wind of the outrage. I didn’t think it would happen that quickly though!

  23. Given the generally poor level of nutrition in Scotland I would have thought she should have been given as much encouragement as possible and not banned. Could save the NHS a few quid, after all.

  24. Hey I know, how about you start feeding the kids nutritional food instead of the slop she’s blogging about?  This reminds me of how the Dairy Council and Meat Industry in America totally lied to parents and kids and developed a “Nutritional Pyramid” of food groups that was totally unhealthy and 100% incorrect. Who cares about children when you are running a business. Money trumps all!  Idiots.

  25. Censure is intolerable when it targets a 9 years old girl. That’s good.

    Why is it tolerated for adults? Are they supposed to be strong enough to fight back alone?

  26. A sudden outbreak of common sense is still common sense! (This, however, seems more motivated by bad PR, but the end result is the same.)

  27. The image chosen here is by far the worst-looking meal from the first few pages of the blog. A lot of this stuff actually looks pretty decent, and miles ahead of what I ate in school in New York. Seems overpriced at £2 but the quality looks a lot better than what I got for $1.25 (though she gets smaller portions, which is probably a good thing really).

    Of course, the reader images sent in from around the world all look way better (except for one sent in from Atlanta which looks like what I had in my day). Obviously there’s a lot of room for improvement in Scotland and the UK in general, and definitely in the US.

    edit: her very first post with a picture, from May 8th, is way worse than the hot dog pictured here but most of everything else looked “not that bad”

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