I’ve written before about TOMS Shoes and their mostly misguided shoe campaign. Here is what I wrote last year: TOMS Shoes—Bad Assumptions.
Their latest “One Day Without Shoes” occurred again a few weeks ago. I’d like to comment on one of their promotional posters:
The emphasis is all wrong. It stresses the wrong problems. When you grow up barefoot, your feet are not the weak puddles of flesh that so many shod people are used to. Walking without shoes for miles is not a problem, any more than walking for miles is not a problem. Just as the kids’ leg muscles are strengthened by the walk, so are their feet. You might as well complain that they don’t have buses to transport them. (Actually, buses would be nice, but it is necessary to prioritize.)
The real problem is that TOMS Shoes focuses on symptoms and doesn’t come close to treating the disease. Yet, this poster does hint at it. It says they have to walk for miles simply for clean water.
Elsewhere in their promotional literature they talk about infections from going barefoot in contaminated water. That is the real problem, and wasting money on shoes is not the solution. That contaminated water is being used for washing and drinking. It leads to dysentery and cholera and a host of other diseases. Get rid of the contaminated water, and going barefoot is not much of a risk (or at least not much more of a risk than any other activity that might lead to minor scrapes).
I have mentioned before that there is a case for shoes for one particular problem: Podoconiosis. That is a rare lymphatic condition in which a genetic variant prevents specific volcanic soils from properly getting cleared from one’s system. It does affect about a million people, mainly around Ethiopia. In that instance, shoes do make sense.
But otherwise, they ought to be a low priority item. Another thing to keep in mind is that providing shoes that weaken the feet means that you have to keep providing shoes. On my hikes I cannot tell you how many folks I talk to tell me that they’d like to go barefoot more but that their feet are so weak and going barefoot is so painful that they just cannot do it. That is what those kids are being set up for. When the shoes wear out, and if new ones are not available, their feet are no longer up for the task of transporting them. It is like taking away a couch potato’s car.
I would be a lot less suspicious of TOMS Shoes if their “charity” and event was not so intimately related to what they are selling. It seems so venal, and acts merely as a band-aid. So I would like to suggest a different item that would be much more effective in saving lives: Peepoo bags. Here is a video about them:
You can find out more at Peepoople.com.