Julie Poppen is a journalist, an editor and writer for Education News Colorado and the mother of an incoming fifth grader, who won’t eat her school lunches.
You may have heard of the 9-year-old blogging sensation Martha Payne, otherwise known as “Veg.” The Scottish primary student is documenting her school lunches with descriptive text, photos and her own rating system in her blog-gone-viral, Never Seconds. As of Thursday, her blog had attracted 1.7 million page views.
Her Food-O-Meter uses a 1-10 scale to rate her school lunch meals. She even counts mouthfuls to gauge serving size. And she gives meals her own health ratings, again on a 1-10 scale. She notes the cost of her lunches, pretty much 2 British pounds, which is a little more than $3. Being a kid with a sense of humor, she even documents pieces of hair found in her school lunch. So far, none … See, there is a reason for those hairnets!
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, an advocate for healthy school lunches, helped Martha become famous in her own right when he sent her an autographed book with the words, “Great work, clever girl. Keep it up.” Being an astute blogger, she immediately posted a photo of his inscription.
Mini Mrs. Q
Martha is not the first person to do this, of course. Mom and teacher Mrs. Q, aka Sarah Wu, got lots of attention for her blog, Fed Up With Lunch, based on her personal pledge in 2010 to each lunch with her kids at school every day.
Wu, too, relied on the power of images and description to garner attention and demand changes in the nation’s school lunch program. Slowly but surely, changes are happening in school cafeterias across the good ‘ol U.S. of A., thanks to new federal school lunch guidelines demanding more whole grains and fruits and veggies and less fats and sugars. (Let’s just not talk about pizza being counted as a vegetable …)
What’s cool about Martha’s blog is that kids from around the globe are sharing their own stories about school lunch. What I find striking is how controlled the portions seem to be compared to American school lunches. In some cases, these lunches are downright skimpy. And Japanese lunches, in particular, look delicious and nutritious with all that rice, fish and vegetables.
What’s in a Scottish school lunch
As for Scottish lunches, at least those served at the Lochgilphead Primary in Argyll, some look appetizing; others rival the fried and starchy fare often seen in American school cafeterias. Yesterday, Martha wrote, she chose the gammon steak (looks like ham to me) with pineapple slices on it, carrot sticks, red pepper slices, exactly two snow peas, some boiled potatoes and cake with cream for dessert.
“I didn’t finish my gammon because I was unsure about the outside bits which were dark. You can tell now I have a dislike of black food!”
She gave the meal an 8 on her Food-O-Meter, but a 6 for health. Apparently, at her school, you only get access to fruit if you eat your entire meal first, or at least that’s what the kids believe to be true. School officials say students have always been allowed seconds when it comes to fruits and veggies.
Also interesting at her school, students get colored rubber wrist bands in the morning to indicate their noon meal choice – probably so they can’t change their minds later and to ensure there is enough food to go around. Martha’s early blog posts one month ago lamented small servings.
No fair! Fins good at school, and lunch
Some Finnish students weighed in on her blog this week. Not only do Fins rule the world in terms of public education, apparently all Finnish students also get free lunch every day and as much food as they want too! Although I will say the stew pictured in this photo, supposedly from a Finnish student, doesn’t look all that appetizing with chopped-up sausage (or are they hotdog bits?) in it. But there is also the slice of brown bread, a glass of white milk and cucumber slices.
Then there’s a very healthy-looking lunch from a student in Glenview, Ill. Yea, USA! Some spaghetti with sauce, a slice of garlic bread, a bag of carrots, a dish of fresh fruit, steamed broccoli and white milk.
What does Veg rank a 10? A meal consisting of chicken curry, broccoli, bread, ice cream and shortbread. However, this perfect 10 rates only a 7 for health.
“The shortbread is really nice because it’s covered in sugar,” Martha writes.
Let’s not forget she’s a kid, after all.
I shared a link to Martha’s blog with my 9-year-old daughter, who refuses to eat the healthy lunches offered in her Boulder Valley school, thinking this could turn into some kind of cool cross-cultural connection that also promoted healthy food choices. All my daughter said was, “No fair, they serve Sprite,” after seeing one of Martha’s school lunch photos.
Maybe your child is a budding foodie or culinary activist. If that’s the case, encourage him or her to submit a photo, ratings and description of our Colorado school lunches to Payne at NeverSeconds@gmail.com. If it’s published, let us know.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.