Been There, Ate That: A Candy-Coated Childhood by Jules Torti 

I was sold on Been There, Ate That: A Candy-Coated Childhood by Jules Torti with the title alone. A memoir about all the deliciously terrible food one could eat when they were a kid in the latter part of the 20th century? Sign me up. I may have been born in the ‘90s myself, but I was pleasantly surprised (and maybe a bit disgusted) to see how much of the food Torti describes with lurid glee I remembered fondly. If you’ve ever said “Wow, I miss the cerulean colouring of the old blue Smarties,” then this is the memoir for you. Torti takes us through a childhood framed around food: the treats she had, the different meals she had at her house versus her different grandmothers’ houses, special holiday food, and eventually, how her tastes changed as she grew up and was introduced to other foods, through travel, leaving her rural area, and even finding new-to-her cuisines when she was supposed to be in class in high school.  

“Torti is playful with her language and storytelling, putting her memories into short, chatty chapters.”

The charm of the memoir is in its writing and structure. Torti is playful with her language and storytelling, putting her memories into short, chatty chapters. The book is divided into three major parts: the 1980s, the 1990s, and Doggy Bag, which includes notes and extra information about the food Torti references in the first two parts, such as when she first ate them, Torti’s food bucket list, and tips from her mother. Each chapter is focused on one particular kind of food or family of food, such as traditional Christmas fare, or tapioca pudding. Torti waxes on about the joys of hot dog day at school with as much reverence as she gives to eating fried grasshoppers as an adult. A particularly lovely chapter focuses on her friendship with Mona, a Haudenosaunee woman from the Six Nations of the Grand River. Torti meets her at a summer job, and offers to help Mona with planting trees and clearing trails. Mona is just one of the many women and mentors Torti highlights in this chapter, demonstrating true appreciation for the education these women provided her – but also the food they introduced her to, including the Indian tacos Mona got them for lunch on the first day Torti went out to work with her. 

While Torti pokes fun at herself and her childhood, including the billion grams of sugar she ate every day if she could manage it, this is a poignant memoir about the role food plays for many of us throughout our lives. Food forms our memories, good and bad, and the enthusiasm with which Torti recounted her usual candy selection at the corner store is one I could immediately relate to (my bag of nickel candy usually included blue whales, spearmint leaves, and cinnamon coins), and the joy of adhering strictly to time-honoured family traditions, like demanding certain desserts or having certain drinks, even when tastebuds have evolved. 

Been There, Ate That is a joyful memoir. It’ll make you want to go eat some chips and dip, find a can of pop and glug it down, or go to the corner store in search of Nerds, or Runts, or a mixed bag of gummy candy. I laughed a lot, and exclaimed “I remember those!” regularly throughout. A delicious read. 

Jules Torti is the former Editor-in-Chief of Harrowsmith magazine. She has been published in The Vancouver SunThe Globe and MailOur HomesFASHIONCanadian Running and is a columnist for Massage Therapy Canada. After looking at 88 houses and living in a barn for a year, she unexpectedly found her home on the 45th parallel: halfway to the North Pole and better yet, halfway to the equator.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pottersfield Press (March 22 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 180 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989725775
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989725771

 -- Website

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.