On a day when we all think about food, I want to revisit, and update, my favorite food-related story of the year.
Constant readers may remember, from back in June, the story of 9-year-old Martha Payne of Scotland. Her blog “Never Seconds,” featuring photographs of her unhealthy school lunches, caused so much embarrassment in her school district that the county council tried to shut her down. The news of their mendacious unfairness rippled across the media and the Internet, and hundreds of thousands of people — including a number of celebrities, and thousands of Superbug readers — applied enough pressure to get the decision reversed.
Martha (whom I’ve never met) seems to be a smart, sensible kid, with caring, thoughtful parents; her mother is a primary-care doctor, and her father has a small farm. With rare maturity, they resisted enormous pressure to monetize her celebrity, and turned the attention into a benefit for someone else.
Actually, lots of someones. They asked readers and supporters to donate to a charity, Mary’s Meals, that feeds schoolchildren in some of the world’s poorest areas — including Malawi, where Scottish roots date back to the arrival of explorer David Livingstone in the 1860s. At this point, five months later, Martha and her family have raised £120,000 (almost $200,000), enough to build a kitchen and distribute school supplies to thousands of kids.
“Never Seconds” went on sale last week, through Amazon UK, via Kindle, and through resellers on Amazon US. For each sale, £1 of the £9.99 price (discounted on Amazon) goes back to Mary’s Meals, who can stretch that £1 to feed 25 Malawian kids.
The book, written largely by Martha’s father David with contributions from Martha and quotations from Never Seconds, describes the origin of the blog (which had been going for barely two months when the council over-reacted) and defends the family against what sounds like ongoing mischaracterizations by local officials. (Readers will remember that when this all blew up last summer, the local council put out a statement that misrepresented what Martha had been doing, then backed down, erased the statement, and posted another at the same URL. The old and new statements are preserved at my Scribd.)
It is really well-written, charming and forthright and unexpectedly moving. In the last chapter, David Payne writes:
(Martha) brought her propensity for sharing on the playground to sharing on her blog. From the days of sharing her dinner, it had grown to a place where children around the world had shared theirs… She had molded Never Seconds into a blog about food issues for children, and one of those issues was that some children did not have enough. Balanced with her scores for her own dinners was an acknowledgement that she was privileged. She had taken to heart the advice I had received from (a) farming friend, “Doesn’t matter who you help, just help someone.” Beyond the fundraising… she had done something maybe more powerful. She had demonstrated why children deserve the rights they have.
On this day when we in the US glory in having way too much food, I hope you’ll think of this brave and thoughtful kid from far away, who made a difference for children who have almost nothing. You can buy the book at the links above, or donate directly to her Mary’s Meals campaign.
Years ago I spent a lot of time reporting in Malawi, and the poverty and grace of the people there is engraved on my heart. So in very poor Chichewa: Zikomo kwambiri, Martha. Muyende bwino.
Here’s a snippet from the BBC, which sent a documentary crew to follow Martha and her father when they went to mark the opening of the school kitchen in Malawi:
Image courtesy Mary’s Meals