Barefoot in Toronto
Going barefoot in Toronto might sound a little out there at first. If you saw someone walking down Yonge St. or around your neighbourhood with no shoes on you might assume it's not by choice.
But isn't going barefoot the "natural way"? That is the part of the case made by Barefoot in Toronto, a local chapter of a national advocacy group for ditching footwear. Mauricio Morales, known as "Barefoot Moe", runs the Toronto chapter's website which contains some convincing arguments for not being shy of going barefoot in public.
The purported benefits begin with the claim that it just feels good and enhances your walking experience, and extends to improved posture and stronger ankle muscles. I don't doubt this is true but it just doesn't seem very practical to most people. I used to take my dog for walks barefoot and would always feel a bit strange passing neighbours on the sidewalk, thinking they must be wondering what I'm doing without shoes on. Barefoot advocates claim that statistically 80% of passersby don't even notice, although I tend to doubt that figure. It sure would be good to see a few others doing this now and then to make it seem acceptable.
Nonetheless, it does feel really good, especially in areas where you can avoid the pavement by walking on grass. Obviously you'd have to ease into it if you aren't used to ever going barefoot. I hate to tell a cautious story (I'm all for people giving it a try) but a friend of mine knew someone who tried going "full time" with this a few summers back and it worked great (for the first few months), until his calluses cracked and he had a hard time walking period.
Of course, then there are issues with places not letting you in without shoes. Stores, bars, workplaces... the practice isn't quite socially acceptable at this point. Even most gyms and sports venues require shoes for sanitary reasons. My jiu-jitsu classes are barefoot, but then again they wash the mats thoroughly on a daily basis.
There is no doubt that there are athletic benefits to ditching heavy-heeled shoes. A trend in footwear is the less is more, barefoot feel, of shoes like Nike Frees.
Vibram Five Fingers are my personal favorite. I picked up a pair last year at MEC (haven't seen them anywhere else) and love them. They are sold at MEC as watershoes but they can be used for anything from hiking to rock climbing. They fit like a glove for your feet and provide the bare minimum protection from glass and extreme temperatures. Truth is though, I still feel a bit funny pulling these out of my bag with lots of people around.
But if you ask Barefoot Moe what he thinks of half-way solutions like the Frees, and he'd tell you "it's just not really barefooting if you ask me."
If you are really keen on the cause of "barefootedness", you could check out the Society for Barefoot Living. I like the quote prominently displayed on their website:
"Going barefoot is the gentlest way of walking and can symbolise a way of living -- being authentic, vulnerable, sensitive to our surroundings. It's the feeling of enjoying warm sand beneath our toes, or carefully making our way over sharp rocks in the darkness. It's a way of living that has the lightest impact, removing the barrier between us and nature."
-- Adele Coombs, "Barefoot Dreaming"
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