UK council lifts gag on 9-year-old food critic

LONDON (AP) — Britain's youngest food critic is back in business.

A Scottish local authority on Friday retreated in the face of an online outcry and lifted a ban on 9-year-old blogger Martha Payne, who had been ordered to stop taking photographs of the lunches served up at her school cafeteria

Her images of uninspiring school meals — one consisted of two croquettes, a plain cheeseburger, three slices of cucumber and a lollipop —drew international attention. The blog, set up about six weeks ago as a writing project and to help raise money for a school-meals charity, has drawn more than 2 million hits.

Martha, who lives in the coastal town of Lochgilphead, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) west of Edinburgh, gave each meal a "food-o-meter" rating, and offered an assessment of its contents.

"I'd really like to know where the chicken comes from," she wrote in one entry about having chicken fajitas for lunch, "so I am going to write to the lady in charge to ask. I know it comes from a hen but I'd like to know where the hen lived."

Local officials weren't amused, and ordered the schoolgirl to stop taking pictures.

In a statement, Argyll and Bute Council said Payne's photos were misleading and had caused distress to cafeteria staff. The council was particularly irked by a report about the blog in Scotland's Daily Record newspaper headlined "Fire the Dinner Ladies."

The council complained of "unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service" and said the blog "misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils."

As a result, it said, "a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen."

Martha's father David Payne said the blog was never intended to make the food look unappetizing. It includes such positive assessments as "lunch was really nice today and it helped cheer me up."

"The last photograph of a meal at school that she blogged, she gave it 10 out of 10," Payne told the BBC.

The ban quickly became an online talking point Friday, with free speech group the Index on Censorship even weighing in on Payne's behalf. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tweeted "Stay strong Martha" to his more than 2 million followers.

The Internet storm was quickly followed by an official U-turn. Council leader Roddy McCuish said Friday that he had ordered officials to lift the ban on cafeteria photos.

He praised Martha as "an enterprising and imaginative pupil."

"There is no place for censorship in this council and never will be whilst I am leader," McCuish said.

Amid the blaze of publicity, donations to Mary's Meals, the charity the blog had been promoting, climbed from 3,000 pounds ($4,700) to almost 20,000 pounds ($31,000) Friday .

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Associated Press
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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