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Modern Parenthood

NeverSeconds lunch blog drama ends with go-ahead for Martha Payne

It didn't take long for a popular outcry to force local government to reverse its ban of NeverSeconds, the school lunch photography blog written by 9-year-old Martha Payne.

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Within weeks, millions were following the 9-year-old’s culinary adventures.  She started raising money through a Justgiving page for Mary’s Meals, a Scottish organization that provides school meals to children in the developing world, and collected thousands of pounds.  Students around the world started sending her photos of their school lunches. Scottish celebrity chef Nick Nairn took interest in her work, and joined Payne for a cooking demo.

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is a longtime Monitor correspondent. She lives in Andover, Mass. with her husband, her two young daughters, a South African Labrador retriever and an imperialist cat..

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And, wouldn’t you know it, the meals started to improve.

But eventually, the Argyll and Bute Council had enough.  (It was apparently a newspaper photo of Payne with Nairn, under the headline “Time to Fire the Dinner Ladies,” that was the last straw for local government.) Payne’s photographs, it said, only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils. The blog was spreading “misinformation.” Catering staff were in tears from the negative publicity.  They told Payne’s school that officials there needed to ban the 9-year-old from taking any more photos.

Yesterday, Payne posted this message on NeverSeconds, under the heading “Goodbye.”

“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.”

And that, it seemed, would be that.

But then comes the power of social media. And the old fashioned press.

“This is craziness!!”  wrote one commenter.

“This is horrible,” wrote another.

Others started change.org petitions to bring back the blog.  Someone submitted her story to TechDirt, an internet site that addresses issues of online censorship by businesses and government. Still others questioned whether the censorship was a violation of human rights. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tweeted his encouragement, and asked his millions of followers to retweet their support.  British newspapers also got into the action, with minute by minute coverage and columnists penning their disbelief.

By this afternoon UK time, the Council had changed its position. According to the BBC, Scotland’s education secretary, Mike Russell, wrote to the council’s chief executive and called for the “daft” ban to be overturned.

Meanwhile, the pledges to Mary Meals through Payne’s site skyrocketed to £16,000.

And Payne, it appears, has been given the green light to continue her photo documentation.

So bring on the mac n' cheese. We'll be watching.

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