Girl Scout cookie season starts early where I live. No sooner had school begun than it was time to prep legions of little girls to peddle cookies with ingredients that no kid should be eating, much less selling. (And just in time for Halloween, too. Yay.) Your council might not start until January or later, but that means there’s still time to rethink the cookies (whether you’re buying or selling). I covered the topic at length (exhaustively?) last season, so rather than repeat myself, I’ll recap below.
I feel the same way now that I did then: I am not anti-Girl Scouts. I am not anti-cookie. I don’t want to deprive kids of their childhoods. But I am against inferior ingredients. And hypocritical organizations. And practices that force children to sell unhealthful products under the guise of “opportunity” and “tradition.”
And I’m not alone. Last season’s posts generated wide-ranging discussions (here and on Fooducate, which reprinted the first post), with thoughtful insights from Girl Scout supporters, parents and troop leaders, many of whom think it’s time to improve the cookies or find new fundraisers altogether.
It’s good news that the Girl Scouts of the USA is finally addressing concerns about palm oil — a troubling ingredient because its production destroys rainforests and wildlife. And it’s great news that two tenacious Girl Scouts guilted the organization into it. Yet I’m not convinced the announcement is all that significant. “Sustainable” palm oil is questionable, and “pledges” aren’t concrete, so it’s hard to know whether this is anything more than greenwashing.
But even if it’s legit, even if the Girl Scouts’ pledge leads to reducing or even ditching palm oil in the cookies, what about the rest of the ingredients (here and here)? That’s the change we really need to see.
(And while we’re at it: Maybe Coca-Cola and Exxon Mobil aren’t the best sponsors for the national Girl Scouts convention, this week in Houston. Just a thought.)
Those who read last year’s posts might recall that this all began because I pondered whether to let my daughter join a troop even if we had no plans to sell the cookies. Turns out that hasn’t been an issue. Tess has shown zero interest in Scouts, and we already do lots of fun, enriching things through school and on our own. We’ve also had no trouble not buying the cookies, since no one close to us sells them. I did see a door-to-door Girl Scout this year — the first time in forever. But she skipped my house! I’m guessing it was the “For Sale” sign in the front yard. That, or a neighbor told her not to waste her time knocking on our door. Hmmm.
Now, the recap:
Let’s talk Girl Scout cookies (January 7, 2011)
The first post, in which I ask people to look objectively at the cookies, their ingredients and the mixed messages surrounding the sales. And did you know? While about 70% of cookie proceeds go to the local council, individual girls and troops keep only 10% to 20% of the price of each box. (The comments on this post are illuminating: on Spoonfed, on Fooducate and on Fooducate’s Facebook page.) An excerpt from the post:
“Oh, there’s no way I’d let her sell them. Our food habits are far from perfect (whatever that means). But I’d feel like a hypocrite. Or a drug dealer. Go on, tell me I’m overreacting. But, seriously, I couldn’t in good conscience let my daughter sell something I believe to be patently unhealthy. (Just as I’m not a fan of donating Girl Scout cookies to food pantries.) And not that I’ve personally tasted one lately, but people tell me the cookies aren’t even that good. Maybe that’s because of ingredient changes. Or maybe because when you eat more real food, you lose your taste for crap. But, no matter. No selling.”
It’s not just a cookie (February 19, 2011)
The follow-up, in which I discuss reaction to the first post (for and against) and tackle the moderation myth. An excerpt:
“People too often confuse activism like this for an anti-treats or anti-fun or other extreme agenda. But this isn’t about never eating sweets or taking away people’s cookies or letting food control your life. And this isn’t just about Girl Scout cookies. This is about holding corporations accountable for ingredients that have no business in our food supply.”
No fooling: Girl Scouts are green and the FDA is making us blue (April 1, 2011)
A what-the-what? about the Scouts’ “Go Green” initiatives. Includes a link to a terrific letter by blogger and Girl Scout leader Jennifer McNichols. An excerpt from Jennifer’s letter:
“To me, Girl Scouts of the USA’s stance sends a frightening message to girls, and that message is the one they already receive on every corporate-sponsored kids’ cartoon and in free teaching materials provided by fast food chains: That ‘making a difference’ is all about thinking small, and keeping it that way, and making the easy choices while putting off the hard ones until it’s too late. Picking up litter and encouraging recycling but never asking where all this waste is coming from and what can be done about it. Getting fresh air and exercise but never examining the food we eat or where it comes from. Running ‘Save the Rainforests’ educational campaigns while selling cookies that contribute to their destruction. You — we — were supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Amen then and amen now.
There is a bright spot amid the latest cookie onslaught: The Girl Scouts recently announced a new locavore badge that encourages girls to explore local food sourcing and cooking. Gotta love that.
Still, I’ll give the last word to a commenter on this story, who suggested that the locavore badge requirements are missing a step: “Bake your own damn cookies.”
Copyright protected by Digiprove © 2011 Christina Le Beau
I managed to avoid anything relating to The Cookies this year, but I’ve seen them being sold and delivered all over the place. Ick.
Did you ever get around to trying that homemade thin mint recipe? I’m planning to bake some more of them soon, so I’ll bring them to the winter market if you want to try them! My plan this year is to try to recreate tagalongs, they were always my favorite as a kid (but they taste like cardboard to me now).
Kira: I have not made the homemade thin mints yet, so if you’re offering, I’m tasting…
I’m so glad to have you buzzing in my ear. My daughter has just started Daisy Scouts, and I’m very excited about it on a number of levels (a beloved neighbor who is just amazing with young girls started our troop) but that cookie thing does bug me. I’m sort of waiting to see how it all plays out – so far, my daughter’s been pretty good about taking in my … um … lectures about freaky chemicals vs. food. So glad you are keeping this conversation going!! And the locavore badge does excite me – I think that’ll have to be my volunteer contribution to the troop 🙂
Bethesda: I hate to tell you this, but the locavore badge is for older scouts only (seniors, I think). Serious bummer. Like little kids can’t grasp the concept!
I think many of your comments are fair. For many troops that have parents that are unable or unwilling to contribute financially, cookie selling does give troops an opportunity to raise funds.
As a parent I might be able to do without cookie selling and give a cash contribution to the troop…many other parents either cannot or will not do this.
No one is forced to sell cookies. Indeed in many troops at least one will not. That doesn’t stop that particular troop member from enjoying what is done with the money. Our troop never had dues or mandatory cash contributions in lieu of cookie selling. So we had girls(families) in our troop participating who had made no financial contribution.
We used to have a lot of cookie booths which ended up to be very profitable. It allowed us to have some experiences as a troop that some girls would have never had if they were depending on the parents to subsidize them.
I’m a former leader, and cookie mom. Generally out of a troop ranging from 15 to 18 girls, 3 or 4 families were probably raising about 80% of the money for the troop.
Kate, yes, the “opportunity” discussion came up a lot after last season’s posts. And it’s true that cookie sales can provide funds that some families might otherwise not be able to afford. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that the cookies themselves run counter to the Girl Scouts’ stated mission of raising healthy girls.
Plus, many parents and troop leaders in last year’s comments shared stories about how the opportunity/entrepreneurial payoffs weren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And, in some councils, while selling cookies isn’t mandatory, it is strongly encouraged. And often troops cannot do other fundraisers unless they also do the cookie sale.
Regarding your comment about what the girl scouts stated mission is, the GS organization is all over the place about what the mission should be. Girls having the opportunity to participate is actually one of the highest values of girl scouts….even if that means keeping families/girls in the organization who are highly disruptive and contribute nothing..we had this very issue with our council.
As a former leader, I think the GS organization is going to struggle, with or without the cookie program. Dropping the cookie sale program would make it really challenging to make GS an affordable option. Right now the organization is considering increasing the absolute minimum costs it costs to be a girl scouts….i’m sure this will be a deterrent for some parents.
I’d agree that the entrepreneurial payoff for the girls might not be much depending on the situation, as ultimately the adults do a huge amount of work to make it happen. That doesn’t mean that some girls don’t benefit though.
I love this and appreciate that you linked to it via our Facebook page! I will link to your article from my post as well so our alliance builds! Bravo!
Re: Palm Oil
The Weston A. Price Foundation does recommend palm oil as a traditional fat and this is one I’ve seen used widely in our community: http://www.junglepi.com/products/red_palm.html I haven’t used it myself – my fat of choice is butter however, my understanding is that there are in fact, sustainable sources.
http://www.rspo.org/?q=page/509 – the Jungle Red Palm Oil is certified RSPO.
Thanks, Sandrine. Whether palm oil can ever be sustainable is up for debate. I’ve written about that (including the RSPO) in several of my other Girl Scout cookie posts. And I’m actually working on an article about palm oil for a national magazine (I’m a freelance journalist). So I expect I’ll have even more information to share soon. But yes: Butter, baby!
hmmm..Fell upon your blog by accident.LOVE it!
Its time people worry more about the crap “they ” call food that we shove down our,and kids throats.
Health is much more of a concern than someones boob popping out while dancing or kids dropping f-bombs..
We would love to bake our own cookies. Well, not the thousands of boxes we sell, but a few. BUT, individuals are not allowed to sell food without a license (for health and tax reasons-this of course is city, state and federal law). It would be simply illegal for us to make and sell our own cookies. In addition, Girl Scouts does not even allow us to have ANY other fundraisers unless we “take advantage of the two good fundraisers they provide us” already. I personally do not consider selling nuts in the fall, when everyone else in the world is selling other stuff for Christmas to be a “good” fundraising opportunity. We do not participate in nut sales, so we must make ALL of our annual profit from cookie sales. It is a good fundraiser-people like our cookies and buy them by the case. We have decided as a troop not to participate in the other one of the two fundraisers, and I do not like GSUSA’s rationale on this point.
I do wish we could make our own cookies. I think it’s a great idea. People are so worried about food safety and getting sued for little things that there is no way at all that girl scouts could ever make their own cookies. But I do also think that the commercial model of selling cookies is much more efficient. If we purchased the ingredients and put in the hours to make the cookies and packaging ourselves, I’m sure our profit would not be any greater than it is now for the amount of expense and time that goes into the cookies and the price a retail market will bear. Life isn’t all about profit, though, so we will be making cookies for our own consumption at an upcoming meeting.
I dread Girl Scout cookie time. I feel so pressured into buying and selling. This year I made a commitment to not eat processed foods which include Girl Scout cookies. I won’t buy or eat them this year.
I asked about opting out of sales, but was somewhat given the cold shoulder. I was scolded that this is how the girls make their money for their activities and camping. I offered to give a donation, but they turned it down. The alternative is for my daughter to sell cookies in front of a store like Walgreens instead of us having to sell to family and friends.
What really bothers me is the pressure put on the families and girls to sell cookies.
Michelle: They actually turned down your offer of a donation? On what grounds? That’s crazy.
I agree. That’s crazy unless they have a good reason. Girl Scouts is not about pressure to conform, it’s about including everyone (which is subtly different). I would never “scold” a parent for a personal commitment to health, anti-commercialism or any similar philosophy. However, we do have certain families who “cherry pick” the field trips and “fun stuff” and ignore the character-building, community service and educational opportunities, and I didn’t want those families to simply opt out with 20 bucks because they don’t want the hassle of participating.
Last year, we made it a requirement to participate (sell at least one box to a non-family member) in order to attend the achievement trip. There were other attendance requirements too, not just the cookie sales. This was particularly aimed at a couple girls who were not participating regularly, then showing up for the fun trip at the end. The parent/s in question did not have a philosophical reason for not selling cookies – if they had, I would have to have reconsidered.
I have noticed that some troops keep individual accounts for the girls, and put their cookie profits toward their personal expense for the big trips. That’s a recordkeeping headache, but it does offer more choice for those who want to opt out and pay instead. We didn’t use this method, simply because my main goal for the year was for us to do things *together* as a troop, which was difficult with parents dropping off and picking up in the middle of field trips to do things privately with their own kids. I wanted the girls to learn teamwork and have a sense of pride together when they voted how to spend their profits. We had a prize for the top seller, but I didn’t want some of the girls to feel bad because they weren’t able to sell as much, or didn’t have parent support (which is needed to sell anything) for the sale or something. This helps pool resources and even out the amounts the girls made (a rising tide lifts all boats). They just had to try. And it was always optional – the trip was paid for with cookie money, so it was a reward for cookie sellers.
The policy that you can’t do other fundraisers if you don’t sell cookies is corporate B.S. I wouldn’t let that policy stop me from another fundraiser if we wanted to do one (sue me). I do think that at some point our bakers and GSUSA have a profit interest in the cookie sales, and I don’t like that either. As the girls get older, we will be having conversations about this and they will make their own choices if they wish to sell cookies and how they want to reward themselves or not after the sale. 🙂 We are girl-led. We vote, then we do it together as a team. If the troop didn’t want to bother, then we simply wouldn’t.
Interesting topic… I’m a former GS and GS Leader who always thought cookies sales were fun but that was BEFORE I started reading ingredients. I not only don’t want GS cookies but I won’t buy the Boy Scout popcorn because of the ingredients. Popcorn sounds “healthy” but the one sold by Boy Scouts is also full of crap. This is so much bigger than GS and BS. We have a national problem because people are not aware and educated about food. Thanks to 100 Real Foods for trying to make a difference in that!
I used to work at a Girl Scout council, and it is shameful the way the council treats girls who don’t sell cookies. I heard from my CEO’s mouth that girls who didn’t sell cookies were not worth being served by the programming available. It was around that time that I found employment elsewhere. A huge chunk of their operating budget relied on girls selling cookies, and selling them by the hundreds. And this was an operating budget that included smartphones for all the upper ranking staffers. The whole health issue of the cookie sale is an interesting one – one that I hadn’t considered until recently.
We don’t personally eat the cookies. We don’t sell or gift them to family or friends. We do sell at the table in front of the store. It has given my girls some valuable speaking, selling, promoting, and overcoming fear opportunities. We have fun making posters to get the table noticed. We practice polite asking and thanking. The girls practice math and money skills. We put the data about place and how many of each type of cookie sold into a spreadsheet to discover good places to sell next year and how to estimate how many cookies we need for each boothing. I hope the cookies can be made with better ingredients in the future. My kid loved the locavore badge, it was all about the lifestyle we already live, there are also cooking and food badges as all the levels.
My daughter is in Girl Scouts and we’ve eaten and sold the cookies. However that was before I became conscious of what me and my family are eating.
To all the people who are saying that cookie selling is a great experience for their kids, don’t you think they could sell something less harmful and still have that experience? Seriously.., people will make any excuse to avoid having to give up their comfortable lifestyle
It’s really a shame that so much of the organization’s focus for fundraising is on the cookie sales. My daughter would love to do Girl Scouts, but we don’t feel that the cookie sales are a good idea for numerous reasons. I’m glad to see that there are other families out there second guessing the ingredients and focusing on how important it is to change these traditions!
I make homemade thin mints at Christmas time. They have only a few ingredients and they are delicious.
The recipe comes from Martha Stewart. Check it out!
Jane in Vancouver USA