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Hell on Heels: Small furry mammals whimper when they hear these shoes approach.

Vegan Shoes and Animal Sacrifice

In which our vegetarian columnist questions how Carrie Bradshaw paid for all her shoes

By Elisa Camahort

This column is about shoes. You heard me right. Because, I admit it, I'm a recovering shoe hound. I don't know when it started. I don't recall being obsessed with Buster Browns as a little girl. Although I do remember the constant dilemma: what kind of sneakers would be in for girls this year? Round toe? Keds? I don't remember my first pair of big-girl shoes, nor my first pair of real heels. So, it's just a mystery really. A deep-seated memory waiting to be extracted via years of therapy.

Oh, who am I kidding? I know exactly when it started. My college job was selling shoes at Macy's. That's where it started. My love for shoes. You know, they start you off with that 20 percent discount, even on sale items, and it's a downward spiral from there. Pretty soon your entire Macy's paycheck is going straight back to pay your Macy's credit card.

I learned many things in that job. Lesson No. 1: If you really, really like a pair of shoes--or if you find a pair that fits you perfectly--then buy two pairs. All shoes eventually go to shoe heaven and you will never find that style again, trust me. Lesson No. 2: It doesn't matter how many times you tell people a certain style only comes in black and navy, they will think you are holding out on them.

"Does it come in bone?"

"Nope. Just black and navy."

"How about brown?"

"Nope. Still just black and navy."

Some days you felt like saying. "OK, you caught me--we have a huge colorful world in the stockroom, but it's only for us!"

I became like Hannibal Lecter, noticing Clarice's cheap shoes. Oh, yeah, I checked out shoes first. And you got nothing but the back of the hand from me if your shoes didn't match or didn't fit or just didn't work.

I believe I left that job (and college) with something like 100 pairs of shoes, at least a dozen black pairs alone. I had your normal everyday styles, but I also had a pair of fuschia pumps, a pair of purple sneakers--and a full array of dance shoes. I was still a college student, of course, so it's not like there were $300 Manolos in the collection, but still, it was a few month's rent worth of shoes. (Can someone explain to me exactly how Carrie Bradshaw afforded her shoes, not to mention her wardrobe? Believe me, writing columns for the newspaper really isn't that lucrative.)

Then, four years after graduating, I went vegetarian. People ask me all the time if it was hard to give up meat. I always laugh cavalierly and say, "Not at all." What I don't tell them is that the real hardship, for me, was giving up leather--and consequently 90 percent of the amazing shoes out there. Wasn't a leather jacket kind of girl. Don't even get me started on leather pants. But shoes! It did feel kind of tragic.

Styles go in and out, and there have been times when microfiber shoes were all the rage (damn those makers who still put on leather soles!). And you know there is always Payless Shoe Source. But my shoe-hound days were definitely over.

It's made me a kinder, gentler person in more ways than one, I suppose. A little less harsh. A little more forgiving. Perhaps even a little more aware that behind every superficial thing you see, there might just be a backstory you didn't think of.

So, now I've let you in on the one true sacrifice I made for my vegetarian beliefs. But there's a happy ending: I discovered that vegan shoes can be found and can be cool. Did you know that Asics makes vegan workout shoes? Capezio makes canvas dance shoes? That there's a site called mooshoes.com that sells every variety of shoes you can think of in its vegan form? Or that, for that matter, PETA has an entire online mall: petamall.com of course, that sells all manner of vegan merchandise?

Now that the Internet has finally provided me with every possible way to satisfy my shoe fetish, I've moved past being quite so obsessed about them. But when I occasionally see a simply fabulous example of fine footwear, it reminds me that, as easy as I make my long-ago shift to vegetarianism sound (the better to lure others into it), there was one little thing that felt like a sacrifice.

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From the March 23-30, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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