Monday, April 04, 2016

Shoeless Ruminations

This post germinated from a couple of seeds.

First, my own body. Because although my surgeon got me a lot of leg length back he didn't get me everything. I'm still about 3/8 to 1/2 inch shorter on the right side than the left. Meaning? That walking barefoot for any distance is fairly hard on me and, in practice, means that I can't go barefoot other than for short distances indoors.

And, second, an article in the World's Worst Newspaper advocating going barefoot as much as possible. I've tried to find it on the paper's website but it seems to have disappeared.

But the gist of it was a local mom (or dad) advocating for kids' playing barefoot as much as possible in the form of an anecdote about her/his kids shucking shoes-and-socks and the shocked reaction of the other parents at the playground.

Note that this is entirely expected here, where a substantial proportion of us embrace every "natural" and "paleo" and "organic" and "local" and whatever-isn't-whitebread-and-mainstream thing you can imagine. Raw milk, antiflouridation, tattoos, kids going naked until puberty, hipster this and hipster that...the people they make fun of on Portlandia? Yeah, that's kind of us. A lot of us, anyway.

Portland, BTW, is very much a Skinnerbox for that particular subset of barefoot enthusiasts, the barefoot runner. Despite our nasty cold, wet winters and our urban setting we have a fairly large number of people out pounding the pavement (or the trail) sans shoes and, often, railing against the shoes as the worst thing to happen to feet since the ingrown toenail.

So I wasn't surprised that Oregon's Newspaper would print something like this. What surprised me was my instinctive reaction to it; that the author made a case that was only effective prima facie, and that there were a lot of potential problems she didn't address.

So do I think that walking around barefoot is a bad idea? Hell, no. I'd love to be able to walk barefoot again. Like running (and playing soccer, and squash, and about a gajillion other things) I am now unable to do that, but I like to kick my shoes off as much as anyone.

At the same time, as a medic, and as someone who has seen something of the lesser-paved parts of the world, and has studied a little history, I also have a certain ambivalence to the notion of the average Portlander (or the average person in an industrial-Western-culture-type society) wandering around barefoot.

For one thing, we're not born to it. Aboriginal cultures that live their lives barefoot typically have a thick layer of callus on their soles that act as form of sandal; most of us don't have that nor do we have the years of ambling about skyclad from the ankle down to develop it.

For another, our industrial landscape is not friendly to bare feet. Pavement is unforgiving and the sort of litter we produce includes some really nasty dangers; metal, glass, plastic, and half a dozen other sorts of objects that will rip the hell out of even the toughest sole.

Another is the sort of historical amnesia you tend to see when antivaccination quacks turn up. Sorry, barefooters, but that's the comparison that comes to mind; you guys just seem very blithe about some very nasty diseases that love to attack your bare feet. It's been so long since most of us had to live barefoot that we tend to forget the hookworm, strongyloidiasis, and cutaneous larva migrans that were fairly common hazards for people before the widespread adoption of shoes.

And people DID widely adopt shoes, long before the coercive power of advertising made having this or that possession the key to coolness and riches and power and getting laid a lot. The Fort Rock people made themselves sandals damn near 10,000 years ago.

Even without the hammering feet take on pavement or the risk of picking up a nasty parasite the universal hazard of stones, thorns, even things like the sharp edges of dry leaves are damn hard on the foot. You could see why as soon as they can people would try and come up with some sort of gimmick to protect their feet.

So I guess that while I'm not completely hating the notion of floating about bare-toed I'm not sure that the idea is right up there with not getting involved in a land war in Asia as a no-brainer.

So, anyway, I'm curious; anybody else got any thoughts on this barefoot thing? Any particular insight or ideas on this? In your opinion is the Oregonian writer spot-on on the wonder of leaping about shoeless, completely off-balance, or is this more a case of being largely where I am; not utterly agin it but with a lot of reservations..?

Just random musing for a Monday...


mike said...

I saw a Viet kid with an advanced stage of hookworms. Pretty bad stuff. And we got a lecture from our Corpsman about it, with a cool cartoon. Not that anyone I served with wanted to take their boots off over there, even though trenchfoot could be a problem if you spent too much time in the rice paddies. But dumba$$ that I was, I never could understand how that little worm could migrate from the soil, to your foot, and then chew their way up your leg though your body to your gut or lungs. That is true perseverance.

FDChief said...

That's kind of where I come to this, mike; having seen some truly nasty foot-related infections and other diseases in the lesser-paved parts of the world during my service.

I understand that the hazards to your basic Portland nature-girl or -boy are considerably less...but those children of Nature probably have a lot less barefoot-time on their soles than those locals in Panama or Egypt or Vietnam so are proportionately more vulnerable.

It just seems to me that, while I'm not one to throw out a blanket condemnation of the whole idea, treating this as some sort of ideological issue rather than a practical "What are the benefits, what are the risks?" sort of thing seems very foolish. But it's also very Portlandy to adopt this sort of thing and make it a ideological issue...

Lisa said...

Shoes are a good.

Chief: I've been away from blog-reading for some time; please forgive me.

Can you direct me to a previous post where you might have discussed your procedure? I'd like to know what happened, and how you're feeling,



FDChief said...

Lisa: You are always a gift, whether as a daily pleasure or a random happy happenstance. Neither forgiveness nor contrition is needed.

I should really do a full post about what happened with my hip. Suffice to say that the operation was a success, and I am much improved.

Yours assiduously,


Lisa said...

Chief, thank you for your kind words (always). I think I like being tended to assiduously :)

I am so happy to hear that you are feeling some surcease in your situation.

Yes, I believe all of your readers would appreciate knowing your status and, if possible, a play-by-play account, in your own inimitable fashion :)