Who's afraid of a nine-year-old with a camera?

Martha's lunch on Tuesday 15 May, 2012.

If you're in the UK, and provided that you've not been living beneath a rock, you've almost certainly heard about nine year old Martha Payne today.

Martha's a Scottish schoolgirl who took to them there Intergoogles to document her adventures in school dinners on her blog, Never Seconds. She'd take a photo of whatever was presented to her by her school's kitchen staff, count how many mouthfuls it took her to eat it (unless she burned her mouth on soup, that made things tricky) and then comment on it in the refreshingly disarming and charming tone that nine year olds do. She'd mark it out of ten for its tastiness and give it a healthiness quotient, and she'd also check for stray hairs. Just in case.

People loved her. And who could blame them? She was bright and funny and honest. Carrot and corriander soup was her favourite but somedays she didn't think that what she was served would see her through the afternoon. For some children, their school meal is their only meal of the day and seeing what they really get to eat was illuminating.

Readers from across the globe would send in photos of their school dinners; there were felafel from Israel, Schupfnudeln from Germany, sausage and veggie soup from Finland, pork and rice from China, and tacos from the USA. Meanwhile, Martha decided to put her new-found fame to good use and started to raise money for Mary's Meals, a charity that helps to establish school feeding programmes in resource-poor communities.

Martha got to meet Nick Nairn, she received Jamie Oliver's seal of approval, and for what it's worth, I thought that she was fantastic.

But that was all until yesterday when Argyll and Bute Council, where Martha goes to school, had her head teacher haul her out of her maths class and tell her that she wasn't allowed to take photos of her school dinners any more. Yes, really.

Argyll and Bute, the last time that I checked, Martha and I both lived in a country that upholds the principle of freedom of expression, taking a photo of your dinner isn't a crime, and our flag does not feature any hammers and sickles.

If you're that ashamed of the meals that you're serving to the school children in your care, improve them. You don't suppress the voice of someone who's commenting on your provision, sometimes critically and sometimes not, and at the same time stifle a nine year old's creativity, freedom of expression, and social enterprise. All that Argyll and Bute Council has done is show themselves to be brutish bullies who are afraid of being criticised by an individual with a camera and a sense of humour who is a great deal smaller than they are, quite literally.

Shame on you, Argyll and Bute. Shame on you.


Argyll and Bute rescinded their ridiculous decree this afternoon. Apparently, they had sought to protect their staff from unwarranted threats and from Martha's misrepresentative blogging. Misrepresentative? To photograph and discuss what she ate, a bit like a restaurant critic would? Mehtinks that they were a little over-sensitive and over-reactionary. But at least someone saw sense, most likely nudged in the right direction by the media fire storm whipped up by everyone from the BBC to the inimitable Fleet Street Fox.