Childhood obesity has now risen to 27% in the UK and studies have shown a direct correlation between eating habits early in life and a healthy diet as an adult. With that in mind, one would think that a 9-year-old girl who attempts to raise awareness regarding the nutritional value of her school dinners would be applauded rather than silenced.
However, Martha Payne, who attends a state school in Scotland, was told yesterday that she will no longer be able to maintain her blog , which was dedicated to posting pictures of her school meals and giving them ratings based on their nutritional value. NeverSeconds blog has been an instant success, drawing in millions of hits within the first two weeks and even catching the attention of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who commented that it was a “shocking but inspirational blog”.
Apparently Argyll and Bute Council disagreed and yesterday Martha was pulled out of class and told that she would no longer be allowed to photograph her meals. The decision was taken after a local paper ran a story about the 9-year-old’s blog, under the headline “Time to fire the dinner ladies”.
The story was picked up nationwide this morning, and within hours, there were three trending hashtags on Twitter dedicated to the story. Martha started the blog as an attempt to raise money for the charity Mary’s Meals, which provides school dinners to poor communities. On yesterday’s post, entitled ‘Goodbye’, Martha said:
“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.”
The media backlash has been such that this afternoon the ban was lifted and Martha will be able to continue her blog as usual. A statement released today on the council’s website said: “We need to find a united way forward so I am going to bring together our catering staff, the pupils, councillors and council officials - to ensure that the council continues to provide healthy, nutrious and attractive school meals. That "School Meals Summit" will take place later this summer.”
As reassuring as it is to know that the blog will be allowed to continue to publicise both the positive and negative aspects of school meals, one has to wonder why it took a nine-year old girl, a sensationalised headline, accusations of censorship and social network madness to get the subject of school meals back in the national press.
Earlier this year, the education secretary Michael Gove came under attack for not extending nutritional guidelines to academy schools in the same way as state schools, proving once again that our society is becoming increasingly worried about what the younger generations are eating whilst they’re not in the house.
Yet despite much talk about the changes in these meals, little has actually been done about the current situation, which sees many schools offering healthy options but allowing the pupils to choose whether they want it as opposed to a plateful of chips and a chocolate bar.
Needless to say we’ve got a long way to go before the national fight against rising levels of childhood obesity is finally conquered, but as long as blogs like Martha’s continue to be a part of mainstream press, it seems that we are getting closer and closer every day.
In my experience school dinners tend to be carbohydrate heavy. I have been given a pasta dish, with bread, potatoes and a rice salad! There are never enough vegetables or salad. What vegetables they do have are over-cooked and must contain very little nutritional content! It's very hard to encourage the pupils to eat healthily and try new things when the food on offer is rather unappetising!