May 23, 2012 at 11:37 AM ET
When 9-year-old Martha Payne started chronicling her school meals on her blog NeverSeconds in April, she had no idea what a stir it would cause. Almost two months later, the Scottish student has received loads of attention and even counts famed British food crusader Jamie Oliver among her fans.
“It is very exciting to have Jamie following my blog,” Martha told TODAY.com. “He has been really encouraging.”
Martha got permission from her school, the Lochgilphead Primary in Argyll, to bring her father’s digital camera to photograph her lunches. Then she posted the photos and systematically rated her meals based on taste, how many bites she had, nutrition, price (always 2 British pounds, a little over $3), number of courses, and, jokingly, how many "pieces of hair" she found in the meal.
One of the first entries featured a sad-looking slice of pizza, a handful of tired corn, a small muffin and a lone potato croquette. Under the photo Martha wrote, “I'm a growing kid and I need to concentrate all afternoon and I can’t do it on one croquette. Do any of you think you could?”
While many of the 136 commenters answered “no,” the school council disputes that there a problem and a spokesperson told the Daily Record, “Our school meal provision is fully compliant with nationally agreed nutritional standards.”
Martha's posts may show otherwise, which is why Oliver, who has been advocating healthy school lunches for years, picked up on it. He tweeted, “Shocking but inspirational blog. Keep going. Big love from Jamie x.”
According to her father, David, lunchtime is slowly changing thanks to the attention from the blog. “It has helped clarify the lunchtime rules at school and the kids are now allowed as much fruit, bread, salad and vegetables as they like,” he said. “[But] the school still says nothing is wrong with the food they offer the children.”
Nowadays, Martha even gives her eats a thumbs up. "My soup today must be the best soup in the world," she wrote on Tuesday. "It was chicken noodle soup and the noodles melt in your mouth."
The undertaking was a pretty big step for a kid, especially one who had never even read a food blog before.
“I never imagined Martha's blog would go viral,” said David. “All I expected were her family to read it and leave comments for her.” Martha’s blog has gotten more than 963,000 pages views and was featured in some UK publications.
While food writing is still new to her, Martha’s family has always made it imperative to connect with what they’re eating. Her parents own a small farm where they raise sheep and pigs for meat and grow their own vegetables.
“I am interested in where our food comes from,” Martha said. “And I don’t know where the chicken at school comes from.”
And Oliver isn’t the only one Martha has inspired. She said she has been receiving photos and stories about lunches from Taiwan, Spain and other countries around the world. Has it made a difference in her own lunchtime experience?
“The sizes have improved but it’s not still the nicest food.”
Tell us, what are your best and worst memories of school lunch?
Linnea Covington is a freelance writer and eater who will try any drink, dish, or sweet at least once, especially if it involves chili or bourbon.
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