Celebrity chef Nick Nairn has welcomed the media storm that blew up around the food blog by schoolgirl Martha Payne as a wonderful opportunity to debate the future of school meals in Scotland.
Nine-year-old Payne, who became an overnight sensation with her daily posts on her school meals blog NeverSeconds, was last week banned by Argyll and Bute Council from taking photographs of her lunches.
Following the outraged response that took place on social media forums, council leader Roddy McCuish overturned the decision, but the increased media attention has caused the number of visits to the blog to rocket.
At the time of going to press the NeverSeconds blog had received more than six million hits and Payne's fundraising efforts for Malawi school food project Mary's Meals reached over £90,000, 1,285% of her original £7,000 target.
school meals summit
It is believed the ban was originally imposed on Payne, from Lochgilphead, Argyll, after a photograph appeared in the Daily Record of Payne with Nairn flambéing a dish at the inaugural meeting of the Menteith Group, a summit on school meals.
The accompanying headline, "Time to fire the dinner ladies", resulted in council officials at Argyll and Bute stating that it had "led catering staff to fear for their jobs".
Nairn, who runs two cookery schools in Port of Menteith and Aberdeen, said he had been campaigning for improvements to school meals in Scotland for 15 years and had continually tried to engage with government on the matter, but had been battered back by bureaucracy.
In an opinion piece for Caterer and Hotelkeeper (page 20), Nairn welcomed the increased focus on Payne's blog as an "opportunity to make Scotland a better food nation". He said it took a "nine-year old with a camera" to highlight the issue of sub-standard school lunches in Scotland.
Nairn's enthusiasm to keep school meals high on the political agenda and drive food education in Scotland has been broadly welcomed by those working in the industry, but there have been calls to recognise the achievements already made.
Lindsay Graham, school food and health adviser in Scotland, pointed out that Scotland was making strides to improve school food ahead of other parts of the UK; that menus in Scottish schools were based on scientific evidence on nutrition and backed by legislation; and that Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence married health and wellbeing with classroom learning.
"Nick has made some interesting suggestions but a lot of it is already happening. We have pupil forums in schools, we have food champions in communities and networks already set up. He's right about the fact that we need to start connecting them up and giving them more prominence in the community," she said.
"While I appreciate what Nick is saying, approximately 500,000 school meals are served each day in Scotland, costing an average of 85p each. This is no mean feat and I defy anyone to say that every single meal will be perfect or well received when it reaches the plate.
"But I like the fact that school food is being kept in the public eye and that should be seen as a positive thing."
By Janie Manzoori-Stamford and Janet Harmer
E-mail your comments to Janie Manzoori-Stamford
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Catererandhotelkeeper.com jobs