In April 2012, nine-year-old Martha Payne with the help of her father started her own blog (neverseconds.blogspot.com) as part of a school writing project at Lochgilphead Primary School in Argyll, Scotland. She decided to combine her school assignment with her general disappointment with the quality and quantity of food comprising her school lunches. Her goal was to hone her writing skills and to raise a few dollars for her favorite charity, Mary’s Meals, that coordinates school feeding projects in communities around the world.
In the process, Payne captured less-than-flattering photos of her school lunch tray and wrote meticulously descriptive commentary that rated each meal with a “food-o-meter” and counted the number of bites required to consume it (The meals on average scored 7 out of 10). In at least one instance, Payne complained that it was not enough food to help her focus on her schoolwork—inspiring her blog title, “NeverSeconds,” after the school policy against second portions.
After a local paper published an unflattering story in reaction to Payne’s blog (implying the lunch workers should be fired), the local school council reacted by banning Payne from further publishing photos of her school lunches on her blog. Bewildered by the controversy, Payne stated she was upset at having to stop her writing project halfway through the process.[i] Martha then started posting pictures of school lunches sent to her by children in Germany, Japan, Spain, Taiwan and the United States. The banning of posting school lunch photos prompted a global outcry through social media and a public relations nightmare for the local school council.
By June 2012 Payne’s blog had surpassed 3 million hits. Under much public (even worldwide) pressure, the council then lifted the ban. The powerful images of her school lunches resonated throughout the world, and compelled responses from other high profile food celebrities who championed her cause via Twitter. Soon after the ban was lifted, it was announced that Martha would be teaming up with a celebrity chef to help the council provide more nutritious meals at her school.[ii] With her emergent fame, Payne’s NeverSeconds blog page views surpassed 5 million hits (and 10 million as of February 2014). While Payne’s original goal was to raise £10,000 for charity, she ultimately raised more than £100,000, enough to feed thousands of school children in Malawi for more than a year.
Payne’s story illustrates the profound social, political and economic impact of a school writing assignment and the power of social media to propel her learning well beyond the bounds of the school classroom and even to a global level. The civic engagement piece of this story is even more profound. Payne serendipitously mobilized a worldwide community to not only initiate change her local school culture but also to enact change on a global scale. Payne’s singular voice provided an opportunity for many others to be educated— and not just about (un)healthy school lunches. There are lessons here about civil dissent, school policy, equity, global citizenship and social justice. There are threads of language arts, critical thinking, argumentation and debate, health literacy and politics that comprise a rich tapestry of curriculum.
With the help of her father, Martha wrote a book about her experience, Never Seconds: The Incredible Story of Martha Payne. She recently spoke (with the help of her father) of her experience at a conference:
[i]. Sarah Rainey, Alastair Good, and Richard Alleyne, “School dinner blogger Martha Payne explains it has led to ‘big improvements’ in the meals,” in The Telegraph (June 22, 2012): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9349845/School-dinner-blogger-Martha-Payne-explains-it-has-led-to-big-improvements-in-the-meals.html
[ii]. Scott Stump, “9-Year-Old Food Blogger to Overhaul School Lunches With Celeb Chef. Bites on Today (June 12, 2012): http://bites.today.com/_news/2012/06/18/12280863-9-year-old-food-blogger-to-overhaul-school-lunches-with-celeb-chef?lite.