I’ll sometimes see barefooters proclaiming that “there are no health codes prohibiting bare feet in stores or restaurants”. That’s not quite right.
There are a few, and most of them are in Massachusetts.
For instance, if you look at the “myths” page for the Barefoot Book, it says, “No, there are no health codes that prohibit bare feet in businesses”. Or you can also see it in the responses on this “yahoo answers” page on How come restaurants won’t let you in barefoot?”
The Wikipedia entry on Barefoot is more careful: “There are no state health codes that require customers to wear shoes, as was demonstrated by a project undertaken by The Society for Barefoot Living in 1997, and again in 2002.”
I hope you can see the subtle difference, which we can see again in the letter that the SBL got back from the state of Massachusetts:
There are no state regulations requiring shoes or other footwear to be worn by customers or patrons in food establishments in Massachusetts. It is possible, however, that individual cities or towns may have adopted their own ordinances, bylaws, or local regulations which require the wearing of shoes.
And in Massachusetts in the early 1970s, a spate of Health Departments enacted anti-barefoot ordinances.
Earlier this year, in The Archetype, I highlighted some articles from Maynard, MA in 1966 in which a local columnist ranted about bare feet. The town of Maynard didn’t do anything then, but in 1973 their health department did pass a barefoot ordinance. The following appeared in the legal section of the Assabet Valley Beacon on August 9, 1973:
Public Health Notice
Pursuant to the provision of Massachusetts General Laws and Annotation, Chapter 111; Section 31, notice is hereby given of the following Health Regulation, duly enacted by the Board of Health in the Town of Maynard.
“No person having bare feet shall be allowed in any public building or in any establishment dealing with the distribution, preparation or otherwise handling of foods. This shall include restaurants and retail stores.”
Maynard Board of Health, 8/9 1t
As far as I can tell, this happened without debate. I’m also suspicious about any expertise that the Maynard Board of Health relied on. Back then, particularly, Boards of Health were elected or appointed positions and rarely had actual health professionals on them. (Even today I suspect that is often the case with the boards, but nowadays the Health Departments at least employ health professionals.)
Maynard is not the only one. I’ve previously looked at municipal ordinances, and I’ve found them throughout Massachusetts, in Franklin, Lexington, Provincetown, Truro, Uxbridge, and Yarmouth. I suspect that one place did it, and then a bunch of neighboring places jumped on the bandwagon.
I’m also quite certain that they didn’t suddenly have an outbreak of disease associated with bare feet that required these ordinances. What they had was an outbreak of hippies or other people appearing barefoot that offended the “sensibilities” of the townsfolk, and this is how they reacted, in ignorance and prejudice.
(I also note that Massachusetts General Laws and Annotation, Chapter 111, Section 31, says that “Boards of health may make reasonable health regulations.” I wonder just how reasonable a barefoot regulation can be in the absense of any demonstrated health problem associated with going barefoot in a restaurant.)
These ordinances are still sitting on the books, fossils of an earlier age and a testament to that ignorance and prejudice. I don’t see them being removed any time in the future, either.
And in the end, barefooters need to be careful (or I should say, precise) in their statements. One thing we don’t need is to make a claim that gets accurately rebutted. That can put all our claims about the benefits of going barefooted in doubt.