Stewed Tomatoes by Thomas Ryan

I was teaching a grade 4/5 class one year in the small rural hamlet of Kirkfield, Ontario. It was the beginning of November and we had just finished Halloween. My plans called for a timely unit on nutrition. I launched into the unit with a video, Canada food guides as handouts, and mini lecture that sent a message of seriousness. All students seemed to understand. At lunch I would eat in my classroom with my students and often comment on the goodness of their lunches. I saw it as a kind of authentic follow-up. One student, Mike, who was quite behaviourally exceptional seemed to like my teaching and would often try to get my attention in good ways. For me, I thought this was perfect, as he and I seemed to have an understanding of boundaries. One lunch-hour in particular, Mike was attention seeking by reminding me of how good his diet was. I was eating my lunch in a usual way at my desk and every once in a while I would glance over to Mike. I noticed Mike take a large can out of his lunch bag. My attention was focused on Mike now as he curiously took out a can-opener. I noticed other students looking Mike’s way and make gagging motions. This delighted Mike as he shouted out: ” I have a healthy lunch today Mr. Ryan.” Mike held up his large can of stewed tomatoes. I could not believe my eyes it seemed like some kind of talk-show dare. I said to Mike: “Why did you bring that for lunch?” Mike replied: ” I love stewed tomatoes.” We watched as Mike expertly opened the can of stewed tomatoes, with a can opener he had in withdrawn from his desk, and plunged his fork into the contents withdrawing a large, sloppy, red, chunk and slid it into his mouth. Students looked at each other and made gross faces and laughed. Mike continued to eat, slurp and laugh. I thought to myself, well he is eating good food. From that point onward at lunch we watched Mike(stewy) a little closer. It is a story I often tell to other educators and it is one of those images I will not forget. I’m usually reminded of it when I am grocery shopping.