Education TED Conversations

How a school-age blogger can effect big change: A Q&A with Martha Payne of NeverSeconds

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Martha Payne of NeverSecondsMartha Payne may only be 9-years-old, but she is already a world-renowned food blogger.

In a preamble to his fascinating TEDTalk about what governments can learn from open-source programming, Clay Shirky told Payne’s inspirational story.

In April of 2012, Scottish schoolgirl Payne started the blog, which documents her school dinners (otherwise known as school lunches in the United States) with ratings like “number of mouthfuls” and “pieces of hair” found in food. The idea was to raise money for the charity Mary’s Meals, while at the same time showing the world the low nutritional value of school meals.

The blog quickly picked up fans. But on June 14, readers of NeverSeconds were greeted with a distressing post.

“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,” wrote Payne. “I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners.”

While Payne’s school supported the blog, it was reportedly the local Argyll and Bute Council that had decided its fate. Fans of the blog swung into action, flooding the council with angry messages. The outpouring was so extreme that the council quickly reversed its decision. By June 15, Payne’s blog was back.

Today, NeverSeconds has been read by 8 million people across the globe. Payne has raised £114,840 for Mary’s Meals, and the charity has set up the Friends of NeverSeconds kitchen at a school in Malawi, which Payne herself will soon visit. Meanwhile, Payne is also inspiring students in other countries, like 13-year-old Isadora Faber of Brazil, who documented her school’s poor facilities, leading to many swift improvements.

We caught up with Payne to ask her a few questions.

What inspired you to start your blog?

I want to be a journalist and I asked my dad if I could write everyday. Dad suggested a blog and we looked at some. I like the fact there is a publish button because it’s like I’m a real newspaper writer.

Why do you think your blog posts resonate so deeply with people?

Everyone knows about school dinners. I love seeing what school dinners are like around the world. Children are sharing their photos and ratings. It’s brilliant and I have cooked some of their lunches.

How did you feel in June when you were told you couldn’t photograph your lunches anymore?

I was upset and cried because I had done nothing wrong. Some adults had got embarrassed and thought stopping me would stop them being embarrassed.

What reactions did you get after you posted your goodbye message?

There were so many messages — I couldn’t read them all. Dad said it trended on Twitter and lots of people contacted Argyll and Bute Council.

Were you surprised by the level of public support you received?

It was awesome. Although I was sad because it was unfair, I was also happy that other people thought it was unfair as well.

What does that tell you about the type of world we live in?

It says even a big Council can’t be a bully. They ignored me when I said it was unfair but they couldn’t ignore the world.

How has your blog changed since you were able to resume posting? 

There are guest bloggers writing each week because I’m off school, so no school dinners yet. I am going to Malawi to visit the Mary’s Meals charity because the friends of NeverSeconds raised over £114,000 to feed children a school dinner in Malawi. I will blog everyday from Malawi if I can.

What have you learned from your blogging experience?

I don’t know why adults teach us to write and think then get embarrassed when we do it outside class. I love kids sharing their meals with me and I like sharing back. The internet isn’t just for adults — we can use it too. When everyone chips in, you can help children around the world like with Mary’s Meals.