ENCINITAS — Jackie Bruner slides off her flip flops behind the counter at Encinitas Boxing and Fitness. Being barefoot, she said, is her preferred mode of existence.
Bruner said she prefers being without shoes when she takes strolls with her boyfriend, works out at the gym and in the comfort of her home.
“It’s more comfortable,” she said.
She isn’t alone. Across Encinitas — and the country — more and more people are shedding shoes on walks, shopping runs, workouts and other aspects of everyday life.
The barefoot movement hasn’t been accepted by everyone. Restaurants and stores frequently admonish patrons that without shoes, they won’t be served.
A Las Vegas-based organization, however, is trying to change this, and it sees Encinitas as a fertile ground for spreading the doctrine of barefoot acceptance.
Barefoot is Legal is a nonprofit organization that is trying to eradicate the stigma associated with being barefoot, and raise awareness that there are no laws against the practice, despite the common misconception of such rules.
Proponents of being barefoot point to various health studies that tout the health benefits of the practice, including increasing antioxidants, reducing inflammation and improving sleep.
“Americans are conditioned to believe that not wearing shoes is illegal, unhealthy and dangerous,” said Dave Kelman, founder and president of the nonprofit. “Flip flops are the world’s most worn shoe. People wear them because they want to go barefoot, but think it is illegal. There are many health benefits to ‘earthing’ — that people will not take advantage of because of being yelled at or kicked out of a store.”
Myekah Beond, the organization’s Pacific regional director, said the group’s research points to the stigma associated with barefooted behavior starting with the anti-hippie movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“We looked and before that, being barefoot was considered normal,” Beond said. “But during the end of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, store owners started putting those ‘no shirts, no shoes no service’ signs up because they did not want the hippies in their establishment.
“What happened between then and now is that it has been perpetuated and now people believe there is some health code violation or rule against being barefoot in stores, restaurants and other places, and we’ve debunked that,” Beond said. “It’s a myth ingrained in everyone’s head.”
For instance in San Diego, the County Department of Environmental Health has no laws or regulations dealing with being barefoot in establishments, said Michael Workman, a county spokesman.
“Since being barefoot while dining is not considered a factor in maintaining a safe food environment or food handling practices, it is not addressed under the food safety regulations,” Workman said. “Requiring patrons/customers to wear shoes or other customer practices that do not affect food safety are completely at the discretion of the food facility management.”
Beond said that half of the organization’s efforts are aimed at assisting people who run into problems at establishments who discriminate against them because they are barefoot.
For example, Beond said that last week he dealt with a drugstore manager who told him to leave the store because he was barefoot. He ended up contacting the store’s regional manager who said apologized and said that he didn’t believe in enforcing the store policy because he knew it wasn’t backed by any laws, and told the store manager to allow him to shop.
“You regularly run into employees who think there’s a law against it, and a higher up who knows that there isn’t and doesn’t want to kick out a paying customer, so 80 percent of the time they’ll apologize and say it shouldn’t have happened,” Beond said.
While there aren’t any laws, some restaurant and other businesses will continue to enforce those policies — and it’s their right, a representative of the California Restaurant Association said.
Restaurants and other establishments reserve the right to refuse service for various reasons, said Chris Duggan, the organization’s director of local government affairs.
In the case of a barefoot patron, Duggan said, a restaurant might decline to serve them out of an abundance of caution because of liability issues. A barefoot patron’s foot could get cut on a glass shard or some other debris, he said.
“You want to make sure you have a safe environment, so a barefoot customer could get turned away because of safety concerns,” Duggan said. “Of course, there are a lot of beach communities in San Diego, from Ocean Beach all the way up to Oceanside, so some restaurants might be more liberal in enforcing the policy.”
Beond said this was one of the reasons he moved from Valley Center to Encinitas in December.
“When I came here, I was working at a vegan restaurant and every day I saw someone new come in who wasn’t wearing shoes,” said Beond, who shed his footwear 20 years ago after suffering from knee pain that doctors said would require surgery to fix. He’s been pain-free since losing the shoes, he said.
“We’re looking at this area as a hotbed of awareness, so to speak,” Beond said.
To that end, the organization is hosting a meet-up at 4 p.m. July 29 at Native Foods in Encinitas, as it looks for more people to be ambassadors of the barefoot movement.
For people like Bruner, this is music to their ears.
“I think there should be more awareness of the fact that it’s not bad to be barefoot,” she said. “I think there shouldn’t be a stigma against it because it’s natural, it is the way we were made to walk.”
For more information about Barefoot is Legal, visit the group’s website www.barefootislegal.org.