Update: Roderick McCuish, council leader in Argyll and Bute, has just announced on BBC Radio that the ban has been overturned amid widespread outcry from high profile figures like Jamie Oliver and Scottish Education Minister Michael Russell, in addition to the general public.
Of all the possible reasons to reprimand a young student, starting a food blog does not stand out as something that would require disciplinary action.
But that’s exactly what’s happened at a school in Argyll, Scotland, where Martha Payne was told that she could no longer publish pictures of her cafeteria lunches.
On April 30, the nine-year-old started evaluating her meals online, with help from her father, Dave Payne. Since then, the NeverSeconds blog has been viewed by nearly 2.5 million people. She has also been using the blog to raise money for Mary’s Meals, an international organization that fights world hunger.
Yesterday, Ms. Payne (whose nom de plume is VEG after Veritas Ex Gustu – truth from tasting) wrote that she had been told she could no longer post photos of her lunches.
Her father confirmed as much, adding it was not the school but the Argyll and Bute Council that had made the decision. “Martha’s school have been brilliant and supportive from the beginning and I’d like to thank them all.”
The Argyll and Bute Council published an official statement Friday morning.
Its claim that the blog has been causing “distress and harm” to staff seems extreme in light of the charming and insightful candour with which Ms. Payne has chronicled the lunches at Lochgilphead Primary School.
For every meal, VEG begins with a descriptive paragraph and then rates the food based on such criteria as health rating, pieces of hair (typically zero) and mouthfuls. She also includes reader-submitted lunches from around the world, including this recent vegetarian lunch from a school in Invermere, B.C.
Occasionally, she will probe deeper. Of a chicken fajita, she wrote: “I'd really like to know where the chicken comes from 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.”
A BBC article on the canteen controversy has generated almost 1,000 comments, nearly all coming to VEG’s defense and encouraging her to continue the blog sans photos.
Where celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has used his fame to advocate against industrialized food, often going behind-the-scenes to reveal how it’s been processed before ending up on lunch trays, NeverSeconds resonates because it is the student’s perspective. Kids who may not have previously questioned fries five days a week are now better informed about the virtues of vegetables.
The council’s statement insists that salad, vegetables and fruit are available every day. But Ms. Payne and her friends only seem to become aware of this on May 25 once her blog has developed a following.
Of course, the move to prohibit the photos suggests the council is not wholly satisfied with the quality of its meals. The refined hamburger buns, spring rolls and iceberg lettuce don’t exactly scream nutritious.
But even if tempeh burgers and kale chips never make it to the Lochgilphead Primary School cafeteria, VEG appears to be getting her just deserts. Her page on Mary’s Meals has experienced a significant rise in traffic, amassing upwards of £16,700 ($26,541) in donations and steadily rising.
Editor's note: Roderick McCuish is council leader in Argyll and Bute. Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article.