Shoes & Supermarkets

Before researching and putting together this unit, I had never realized how much I could discover from someone’s shoes (or lack thereof) and my own.

Last year I spent six months working for Oxfam in New Zealand – a country I’ve fallen completely in love with. I still can’t get over their pace of life (so different than the wild rush of Toronto), the turquoise waters, and the crazy landscape.

One weekend it was the thick sulphur air of Rotorua, a town built on top of the Rotorua Caldera, a huge volcano. I can still hear the sound of the crickets and the bubbling mud in the craters, like a big pot of mum’s chilli on the stove. Next to the mud pools were neon green puddles and lakes filled with what looked like pink and turquoise champagne.

On a weekend soon after, we ventured to the mountains and Lake Waikaremoana. There were caves to explore filled with dark crannies and surprises of sunlight streaming through cracks in the stone roofs. Wild horses hung out next to the dirt roads that wound through the valleys. Tea was made on a cabin stove from a recipe of a friend’s Maori grandmother – we had to collect the most bug bitten leaves we could find, as those would be the juiciest. (I was not much of a fan – those bugs did not have the right idea!)

And yet, even with all these strong sights, smells, tastes and sounds that still resonate, one of the things that I always think of first when someone asks me of New Zealand, was the barefoot people in the supermarket.

It seems a bit silly and simple, but it caught me completely off guard. Here in North America, it’s often the familiar attitude of “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” But there, in a supermarket in downtown Auckland, was a kid running down the aisle, a big box of colourful cereal in hand and shoeless! Across the store was someone choosing a green handful of feijoas and pushing their grocery cart while padding along in bare feet. No one gave a second glance. It was great – and got me thinking. I’m so accustomed to seeing and wearing shoes, that I don’t give them a second thought. What could that mean?

There’s something so specific, so natural and all-accepting, of going barefoot where society doesn’t expect you to. When I was young, my friend and I would walk to the convenience store for five cent candies, and if the day was warm enough, we would leave our sandals behind. I always felt so free and wild on those days!

This feeling is at the root of the ideas I was exploring in creating this unit, and I hope that youth, students, educators, and everyone else, will join me in spending some time thinking about this with me.

I set out to learn about the story of shoes and their secrets, so that I could help other people discover their own shoe stories. Why do you wear shoes? What can you learn about yourself with and without your shoes, and what can your learn about someone else by their shoes? What would it feel like to leave your pair at home? In today’s global economy, it could be that your pair of shoes has seen more of the world that you have. What do your shoes come from, and what have they seen before coming to you?

Join me, the World By Cycle team, and educators and students from around the world in the Ride To Learn classroom for Unit 1: Shoes & Sustainability.

First register (takes only 5 minutes) at:

Passcode: WBC/RideToLearn! (include capitals and !)

Tell me – what do your shoes say about you? I can’t wait to learn with you and hear your stories!