When a 9-year-old Scottish girl started her popular blog in April, all she was looking to do was document the quality of food choices at her school and raise some money for charity. One controversy later, Martha Payne is now helping to choose the school’s lunches with a celebrity chef and has generated more than $120,000 for a charity that is building an African school kitchen.
Martha became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter Friday after she posted on Thursday that the local Argyll and Bute Council banned her from publishing photos of her school lunches on her blog. The council then pulled a 180 and gave her permission to continue blogging after the ensuing outcry on social media. Three days later, it was announced that she is teaming up with celebrity chef Nick Nairn to help the council provide more nutritious meals at her school, Lochgilphead Primary in Argyll.
"Nick has been involved in promoting healthy food for many years,'' Martha's father, Dave Payne, wrote in an email to TODAY.com. "Martha enjoyed meeting him as did I and his knowledge and enthusiasm are invigorating.''
Martha's blog, “NeverSeconds,” has drawn attention to the quality of school food offerings, registering more than five million page views and getting the attention of another celebrity chef, Britain’s Jamie Oliver. He helped build the popularity of the blog by tweeting, “Shocking but inspirational blog. Keep going. Big love from Jamie x.”
After a Scottish newspaper ran a story headlined “Time to Fire the School Dinner Ladies’’ in reaction to Martha's blog, the local council informed her that she would no longer be able to post photos to go with her descriptions of her school lunches. Following an overwhelming backlash on social media in reaction to the decision, council leader Roddy McCuish reversed the stance.
“There's no place for censorship in the Argyll and Bute council and never has been and there never will be,’’ McCuish told BBC radio on Friday. “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.’’
The controversy had another positive effect in that it greatly increased the amount of donations being made through Martha's blog to Mary’s Meals, a charity that helps feed children in Africa. She had raised about $15,530 before her story made international headlines, but by Monday morning the total donations had exploded past $127,000.
A school kitchen will now be built in Malawi as the result of her fundraising efforts, and she has already come up with a name for it.
"She decided on 'Friends of NeverSeconds' to reflect all the generous donations,'' her father told TODAY.com via email. As a result of the donations, children at Lirangwe Primary School in Blantyre, Malawi will be fed for an entire year.
"A small thank you isn't enough so here's a big THANK YOU to you all," Martha posted on her blog Friday.
On the other side, the negative fallout from the controversy may hit members of the council. In an interview with BBC radio on Sunday, McCuish threatened to get to the bottom of which of his staffers was responsible for enacting the ban.
“I would certainly be apologizing to Martha if it has caused her any angst whatsoever,’’ he said. “One of the things we will be looking at urgently is the communications team.”
Payne’s father told The London Telegraph that they have been inundated with offers to appear on television shows around the world and approached by Hollywood agents about potential book, television and film deals. The only arrangement they have accepted is working with Nairn to upgrade the school’s food choices.
In her blog, Payne rates each meal with her own "food-o-meter’"and counts how many bites it takes to eat it. Her depiction of a meager-looking piece of pizza and a croquette and her complaint that it was not enough food to help her focus on her studies initially drew the attention of Oliver.
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