Modern shoes, and particularly women's high-heeled shoes, are sadly more a product of fashion than practicality or necessity, and are rather bad for feet, reducing them to clumping appendages rather than moving muscled pieces of nature's sculptured engineering. Who has not enjoyed the feeling of walking barefoot in grass or sand, and regretted having to don some hateful stiff-soled footwear afterwards? Or slipped off their day shoes and put on soft slippers with a sigh of relief?
Actually the problem goes further, as poor fitting or designed shoes affect balance and posture, and cramping feet inhibits development. You can read more about the medical research here , and the effects of shoes on your feet and the benefits of going barefoot, or as near as is practical, here, here, here, and here .
I once worked with a South African girl who spent her youth playing and running barefoot on a farm. As a consequence her toes were spaced out rather than curled and clumped together as toes become in shoes. She wore open sandals when she had to wear anything, and would slip those off under her desk at the first opportunity. However it's not really safe to walk around barefoot in a city environment, especially if one hasn't been accustomed to do so from birth, so some form of foot covering is still desireable - some alternative to traditional shoes that offers protection from cuts and scratches, but allows the foot to move as nature intended, for the toes to spread and grip, the arch to be supported by muscles, the ball and heel to work together as cushions, your toes to push you forward rather than the curve of your shoes.
It is in the slightly-Hippy nature of Oregon that an alternative to traditional shoes should be manufactured locally, and in the open-minded nature of Beth that she should learn about this and give it a try. A couple of months ago we visited Soft Star Shoes, about an hour's drive North in Corvallis. Here over 25 years ago they started making soft moccasin-style shoes for toddlers and children, and due to public demand expanded the range to include adult sizes. Beth bought one pair on the spot and ordered a second pair (which they didn't have in stock).
Behold the soft star shoes, which Beth has worn almost every day since. These moccasins are soft and pliable, allowing your feet to breathe and do more of the work of walking. It takes a week or so to adjust, but Beth stuck with it and now only wears normal shoes for gardening and in the woodshop, and then only to save her Soft Star Shoes from excessive wear and tear.
Where Beth leads I often follow, and yesterday I drove up to Corvallis and bought a pair for myself, ordering a second pair (with slightly thicker soles for trail walking) to be posted to me when ready.