Let’s Talk Girl Scout Cookies

This is a guest blog post by Christina Le Beau. It originally appeared on Spoonfed.

I was talking to a friend about Brownies. The Girl Scout kind. Her daughter had just joined a troop, and, remembering how much I’d loved camping and earning badges as a Girl Scout myself, I asked for details, thinking my daughter might like to join, too.

I’d kind of forgotten about the cookies.

Years ago, before I got squicky about things like refined sugars and oils, GMOs and chemicals in my food, I thought nothing of buying a few boxes from co-workers and neighborhood kids. Then I learned whats in Girl Scout cookies (including pesticide-laden cottonseed oil and eco-nightmare palm oil), lost my taste and haven’t thought about them since. My daughter, Tess, has never had a Girl Scout cookie. We don’t have family or friends who pester us to buy them. (I haven’t seen a door-to-door Girl Scout in forever.) And when we’ve walked by the tables local troops set up outside banks and stores, we’ve just smiled and kept going.

So when my friend mentioned that if my daughter joined, she’d be starting in the midst of our region’s cookie sales, I had one of those huh moments. Huh, I’d better look into this. And gee, I wonder if we’re allowed to opt out. “I sort of wondered if the cookie thing might be a conflict of interest,” my friend joked (sort of), when I said that I needed to think things through.

Turns out you can opt out, though the Girl Scout website makes you feel like a loser for even considering such a thing. But I decided to wait anyway. Tess already has art and sewing classes besides school, and sometimes swimming lessons, too, and that’s all plenty. But, really, I just need time to think about the cookies.

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.

But is that all? Do I just quietly opt out and let Tess enjoy the many great things the Girl Scouts do offer? Or do I talk to the council, the troop, whoever makes these decisions, about some fundraising alternatives? I mean, even if you don’t want to consider the ingredients, there’s the money thing: 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. And it’s not like the girls gain any values lessons here, as they could with, say, selling seed-starting kits or fair-trade goods. Seems we could do better, yes?

But then what? Do I raise a stink at higher levels? Try to get the Girl Scouts of the whole U.S. of A. to see that forcing little girls to shill nasty, unhealthful cookies hardly upholds the ideals of an organization that published a report called “Weighing in: Helping Girls Be Healthy Today, Healthy Tomorrow”?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a 2006 op-ed called “Killer Girl Scouts” that set the Nanny State complainers abuzz. My favorite part:

“Maybe it’s unfair to pick on the Girl Scouts, because trans fats are all around us. But that’s the problem we have in risk assessments. There are certain kinds of risks – say, fears of Saddam Hussein – that galvanize us to mobilize an army and devote $1 trillion to confront the challenge. Meanwhile, we do nothing about threats that are much more likely to kill us – like trans fats peddled by cute little girls.”

This was before the Girl Scouts toned down the trans fats in their cookies. But trans fats are still in there. Along with all the other unhealthy oils, refined sugars, and artificial colors and flavors. A sampling:

Thin Mints: enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, vegetable shortening (palm and/or partially hydrogenated palm kernel oils), cocoa (processed with alkali), caramel color, contains less than 2% of: high fructose corn syrup, whey, salt, leavening (sodium bicarbonate), soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, peppermint oil. (This version is from ABC Bakers, one of two bakeries authorized to make Girl Scout cookies.)

Dulce de Leche: enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate [vitaminB1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid), soybean and palm oil, dulce de leche flavored drops (sugar, palm kernel and palm oil, anhydrous dextrose, nonfat dry milk solids, reduced mineral whey powder, cocoa butter, yellow #5 lake, yellow #6 lake, blue #2 lake, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, salt), sugar, brown sugar, contains two percent or less of high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial caramel flavor, salt, natural and artificial flavor, cinnamon, baking soda, whey protein concentrate.

Yet these are the same cookies the Girl Scouts use as a foundation for cookie badges that ask girls to, among other things, analyze cookie ingredients (for realz) and consider farmers’ roles (as if).

The Scouts should be careful what they ask for, or they might end up with whole troops like these two savvy 12-year-olds, who created an alternative fundraiser and education campaign after learning that the cookies contain rainforest-destroying palm oil. Maybe it’s time the rest of us cast a critical eye, too.

Journalist Christina Le Beau blogs about food literacy and sustainability at Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat. Recent posts: explaining GMOs to a kid and deconstructing food dyes .
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  • dragonflyrunner

    Thank you for this post. we had a similar situation at our school selling Otis Spunkmeyer — it is a values issue having kids selling and promoting a product that we would never even consider buying for our own consumption. no one at school seems to care and I have felt the same conflicts over how to handle the situation. unfortunately the cookie sales were our most effective fundraiser in school history – scary! I think it is time for girl scouts to make a healthy cookie and for parents and kids to find fundraising alternatives to the “what we have always done’ mentality.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paula.jakobs Paula Jakobs

    I agree! My daughter’s not old enough, but the whole cookie fundraising thing is why I won’t be encouraging her to join in a few years. I’m actually looking into alternatives, I’ve heard about something called Earth Scouts. I might go for that once the kids are old enough.

  • MJ

    As a former Girl Scout mom, I would suggest talking to the parents who help out with scout troops and offer to donate to one of their projects. Most troops do volunteer work with their local non-profits and take local trips to earn badges. Instead of buying cookies, offer to donate $ for the non-profit or to defray the cost of their trips.

  • Oakleafwolf

    I was a girl scout from age 8 to 18 and never sold a cookie or even had an order form in my possession. Granted, I was an independent scout and I’m sure you’d be looking for the camaraderie aspect for your daughter but… well, not selling cookies really isn’t that bad.

    You could just avoid the meetings during cookie season. Then the other girls would just be happy to see your daughter again when she comes back again. :)

  • http://www.friscokids.net Debbie

    Girl Scouts (the regional councils and the chapters at least, maybe national?) get a fair chunk of their operating funds from cookie sales. It keeps the prices affordable for all scouts to join. I’m not trying to shill for the organization, but that’s my understanding. Our troop gets 70 cents/box (out of $4) which works out to 17.5% I think if they sell over a certain amount, they might get 25% (which won’t happen in our troop). The kicker is that if you don’t sell the cookies, it’s not just your troop who suffers financially, it’s the overall organization. That’s why they push it so much.

    If you’re not comfortable selling cookies, perhaps consider making a donation to the regional council (they’re always asking for $$) and to the troop for their activities. My daughter did girl scout day camp last summer and it was hugely affordable (below market rates) – they also offer scholarships to camp and to scouts in general so all girls can participate. That may be one way to help the scouts be financially solvent while not going against your principles. By the way, some girl scout troops also do nut sales in the fall – we haven’t done those, and I don’t know what the products are like.

  • http://www.friscokids.net Debbie

    Girl Scouts (the regional councils and the chapters at least, maybe national?) get a fair chunk of their operating funds from cookie sales. It keeps the prices affordable for all scouts to join. I’m not trying to shill for the organization, but that’s my understanding. Our troop gets 70 cents/box (out of $4) which works out to 17.5% I think if they sell over a certain amount, they might get 25% (which won’t happen in our troop). The kicker is that if you don’t sell the cookies, it’s not just your troop who suffers financially, it’s the overall organization. That’s why they push it so much.

    If you’re not comfortable selling cookies, perhaps consider making a donation to the regional council (they’re always asking for $$) and to the troop for their activities. My daughter did girl scout day camp last summer and it was hugely affordable (below market rates) – they also offer scholarships to camp and to scouts in general so all girls can participate. That may be one way to help the scouts be financially solvent while not going against your principles. By the way, some girl scout troops also do nut sales in the fall – we haven’t done those, and I don’t know what the products are like.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenleebow Ken Leebow

    I love this post because any time I bring up the fact that Girl Scout cookies have trans fats in them, I get blasted. It’s as if you are trampling on sacred ground.

    Girl Scout cookies are just one component of our toxic food environment. We accept it as normal, however, our food environment is far from normal.

    Because trans fats is a known killer, I do maintain the website http://www.PartiallyHydrogenated.com to educate people about them.

    On another note, like I have told Mrs. Obama …

    It’s great that you have a program to assist with the fight against obesity. We need all the help we can get. However, I do not have high-hopes for the program.

    Briefly, we live in a toxic food environment. By way of explanation, let me take you on a tour of my “Main Street” which is everybody’s Main Street. My Main Street has 13 fast-food restaurants and seven gas stations that sell a tremendous amount of junk food. When running errands on my Main Street, every store I enter (hardware, office supply, pet, and more) sells candy, soda, and assorted junk food at the checkout counter. Upon entering my pharmacy (there are three within one mile), I am uncertain if I have entered a candy store or drug store! We have been led to believe that this is normal. It’s not!

    As Dr. David Katz, a specialist in childhood obesity, states: “We are like the Polar Bear in the Sahara Desert.” We are not in our normal environment. I have no expectation that this toxic food environment will change. The best we can do is be aware and hopefully try to pull back from this strange environment.

    If you try, you will find that it is easy to leave the Western diet without leaving civilization. Try it. You might like it. No doubt, you will be healthier if you do.

  • Miki Misha

    get them into 4-h instead, its a great organization and more eco friendly in my opinion.

  • PROUDgirlscoutLEADER

    Your poor daughter has never tasted a Girl Scout cookie? That’s criminal. Do you keep her from all things enjoyable or are you just hating on the cookies? Likewise, do you stay away from ALL things that might have a negative effect on the environment? I doubt it. Unless you are walking everywhere you go instead of driving and eating only food you’ve grown yourself, please refrain from making such hypocritical comments about something that allows SO MANY girls opportunities they would otherwise NEVER have the chance to experience.

    • PROUDgirlscoutLEADER

      Please don’t punish your daughter because of your hangups. You can make a donation directly to the troop instead of selling cookies. Most troops set their goal at 140 boxes/per girl, which means at least a $91 profit per Scout. Match that, and no one will complain.

      • mari

        Maybe you should think about what those little girls are selling and the message that it sends to them.

        Girl Scouts are not about selling junk food for money. It’s about life lessons. If the life lesson you’re teaching is that you have to sell out to get a few dollars to do the things you want, by all means…

        And they are, in fact, junk food in the worst possible way. Why don’t you contribute other items to sell, or campaign against the poor quality of the cookies and the example it sets rather than complaining on a message board and looking like an ignorant troop leader? I understand the goal. I understand that it gets you the money. There are other ways. Why don’t you set a good example for your girls and try to change things for the better?

      • Guest

        You mean I can just give my scout leader a hundred bucks and not have to spend weekends schlepping my kids and boxes of cookies around in my minivan, having 9 or 10 people shut the door in our face?

        That’s worth $100 for sure.

      • CubmasterMcGee

        Or you can do what my Cub Scout Pack is doing. We figure how much we are going to need for the whole scout year, then break it out the cost per scout. Then we give parents the option of just paying that cost outright than having to sell popcorn. I found over 60% of my parents paid outright than having to sell popcorn.

        Or the Girl Scouts can sell something else. There are tons of different fundraising opportunities.

    • http://www.spoonfedblog.net Christina @ Spoonfed

      Here’s the thing: I don’t want to live in a world where people think the problems are so big that they don’t even try to fix them. Yes, environmental destruction is a huge issue. Yes, our food supply is loaded with unhealthful, chemicalized ingredients. But that doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands and do nothing. Every step counts. And that’s something we should be teaching our kids, too — that values matter and that they can make a difference.

      Let’s also remember that we’re talking about cookies, not essential foods. That makes it a whole lot easier to stand on principle, you know?

      (“Criminal”? Really?)

    • Melissa

      Yes, what a terrible mom she is for caring about her daughter’s health. What a monster she is for being concerned about the values her daughter is learning. For shame!

    • Michelledawn3

      As a child, I sold GS cookies for years and still love them…..however…..I now see what a lot of people in our society don’t understand.  Artificial ingredients (flavors and colors) are made of chemical components and cause bad reactions in a lot of people.  As a teacher, I suspect that many of these people don’t know.  My daughter has sensory issues.  Within mere minutes of ingesting something artificial, she gets defient and “nasty.”  For days and days after, she is uncomfortable in her own clothing.  The tiny hairs on her head drive her crazy and she continually wets her hair in an attempt to make this stop.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

      I understand that this has gone on for a long time, but our culture needs changes.  We are poisoning our own bodies with the foods that we allow companies to feed us.  The tradition of girl scout cookies is one that I have an affinity for, but now I’m torn.  Pressure should be put on the company(s) that make these cookies so that they replace the chemicals with real vanilla flavor, etc.  It is a cost cutting measure by the manufacturers that is not worth the health of our country.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ctilluma Christian Tilluma

      I hear crack is enjoyable.. Should I give some of that to my kids too or should I be a parent and, while not perfect, do my best to keep toxins out of their lives? The lifestyle lessons children learn starts at a young impressionable age and I I’d rather my children learn through l lessons and example how to live a long, active happy healthy life. Others may choose differently and o instill behaviors that will kill them quicker. I guess it depends on the type of parent you are.

  • Tt

    The pity effect is what keeps sales going.. adults see the young child and purchase it even though it may go against their health morals. These horrendous cookies must be put to an end… I mean in the end its like a stripper, getting pity money from a guy at a strip club… is this what we want to teach our children?

    • DC

      Wow, from Girl Scout to stripper in two sentences. I don’t believe it’s a pity effect, if it were then they could just have them put out a sign that said, “Donate to our Girl Scout troop or we won’t have a troop anymore :( ” Tt I’m not trying to be a jerk here, and I do think they should re-evaluate their cookies and see if they could offer some healthier options, but there are some people who love their cookies (guilty). So is it really that morally wrong to sell some cookies to support the Troop if people are informed about the ingredients and know what they’re getting? Maybe we need to be spreading the word about what’s in them as opposed to passing judgment on an organization that provides our young women with numerous opportunities to better themselves?

  • http://www.facebook.com/janet.lancaster Janet Lancaster

    Wow! I had no idea. I don’t eat them because of gluten intolerance and have bought boxes for the troops. I think I’m really better off just writing a check to the troop for the cost of the cookies and making a donation to my local council and skip the cookies. I like all of your ideas. Thanks for the post!

  • Cookie Monster

    I was the “Cookie Monster” aka VP of GS Products and Merchandising for the former GS Tarheel Triad Council. I planned and managed every aspect of the Cookie Prgram for 13 counties (over 1000 troops) I find it impossible to stay quiet when a such a report is so lazily presented. I understand she has a certain and maybe even valid view regarding knowledge about foods and food sources. But she limited her research to almost nothing.

    The Cookie Prgram is yes the primary fund development program for councils in most cases it accounts for 50+% of operating budgets. (GSTTC it was 53%) This means cookies pays for staff, materials, camps, other girl programs, publications, horses, canoes… all things Girl Scouting.

    There are 2 companies in North America that produce GS Cookies. Each has made tremendous commitments to producing healthier products. Could they do more, certainly but this article has done little research into the actual products. The blogger also speak nothing of the basis of the Cookie Program as girl programming. The Cookie Program is an excellent training tool for girls to learn business, communication, math and team building skills. I have witnessed the shyiest of girls beam when presenting information obout the product, the programming and the Girl Scouting in their lives and their communities. Troops are able to travel the world literally from the funds they raise. Great things happen because of the lessons learned in even the most minimal participation in this program.

    Even the history of the program was that Juliette Gordan Lowe, founder of Girl Scouts, began the cookie program to teach girls and young women to be financially independent and support their activities and interests. Girl Scouting is about providing girls with the opportunity to explore all of their possible interest from camping to goverment to business to dance to cooking to cookies to space… I for one would hope that no one would seek to limit any girl’s growth and exploration. I think there is a tremendous lesson here that this blogger is missing both in sharing this experience with her daughter and in sharing an opportunity to educate others. Why not come up with a healthier cookie product that could become apart of a future program. Just me on my GS soapbox. stepping down now.

    • Former GS&Leader

      As a former GS and a leader, I have to say that back in the day I was a Girl Scout, I did enjoy selling cookies. However, when I decided to leave the organization as a leader, cookie sales among other things were a big issue with me.
      The entire organization has changed dramatically over the years and there was a push when I left to have even Daisy’s (the littlest GS) sell cookies. When I was a scout in the dinosaur era, only the older girls were permitted to sell cookies (at $0.55 a box (no Daisy’s and Brownies could not sell). There were also no store sales. As GS has expanded, their mission to include “something for every girl” and having added a lot of charitable outreach, the cookie funding model has really fallen apart. The vast majority of the money goes to GS Councils (check out some of the fat cat salaries pulled down by the women running the show at THAT level). Despite that, councils no longer subsidize many programs, pushing the financial burden on the troops. The older girls who need the funds for the age-appropriate activities are really pushed aside because people buy from the “cute little ones.” GS knows this and thus the push for the littlest ones to sell. I took great exception to the whole “teaching girls to sell” model applied to little ones who can’t even add yet. I won’t even get into the number of parents (a lot of them) that pimp cookies for their kids – bypassing the lesson completely.

      The girls make ~$0.70/box (that number varies according to the individual council’s cut they wangle in their cookie negotiations – also, the girls can bypass chotckes and earn more per box). You can, in lieu of cookies, donate to the troop directly or as others have said, donate to a particular project the troop is running.

      As far as other fundraising, GS has an “approval process” that one must go through. I understand this as a means of making sure it doesn’t break any GS tenets. However, we always ran into trouble with council during Cookie time since we used to like to do a post-SuperBowl pop/bottle drive – a huge moneymaker and certainly more green than eating a ton of cookies. Even though some of our girls used to hustle and sell 300+ boxes each, our request for approval for the pop can drive used to get hung up in the “approval process” because council wanted us out there shilling more cookies as it lines their pockets. Take a look at the salaries pulled down by some of the folks working in your local GS council – particularly at the top. Bottom line, you can’t take girls to a World GS House or on a significant trip funded only with cookie profits.

      One poster mentioned about the affordability of Day Camp. I can honestly say as a multi-year daycamp volunteer and Service Team coordinator, we got little council funding/support and had to run camp on a shoestring with all volunteer labor. The Programs volunteer spent countless hours shilling for community volunteers to come to camp to share their craft/talent/stories/songs/etc.

      My daughter is a GS Bronze, Silver and Gold Award recipient, so it isn’t that we didn’t find the program worthwhile. I just think the administration of the program needs work and the mission needs refinement.

      • http://www.spoonfedblog.net Christina @ Spoonfed

        Former GS&Leader, thanks so much for that eye-opening assessment. Sadly, it echoes a lot of what I’ve heard from others. Parents selling cookies for their kids is a particular peeve of mine, especially because the Scouts go to great lengths to emphasize how selling cookies teaches business skills. And that’s further underscored by your point about the push to get the littlest girls selling. (And the undertones of using cute little girls as sales tools? Well, that bothers me a lot, too.)

  • Troopleadernocookies

    This is my 6 year old’s first year as a Girl Scout. We struggled long and hard about the cookie issue – I HATED selling cookies as a GS and as an adult, I find that way too much of the programming in troops is dedicated to cookie sales. I ended up volunteering for and becoming a troop leader and now have 12 Daisies and Brownies in our troop. I’ve worked very hard to make sure that cookie sales are a side bar to troop activities and we’ve spent no more than 30 minutes total of troop time on cookie sales. My daughter is not even selling GS cookies. She decided to hold a bake sale to raise funds and we found recipies, made ingredient lists, talked about cost and profit, baked and packaged cookies and she still did all the standard “sales” aspects. She’ll make about $2 profit per batch and we’ll split the proceeds between her troop and an orangutan rescue org (we don’t eat products containing palm oil). There is a lot of pressure to sell cookies and very few other ways to earn money as a troop (which pays for all field trips, craft supplies, etc). I wish there was less of an emphasis on cookie sales – seeing the program in action, I don’t really see my girls learning all the business aspects they tout and it takes away from time the girls could be learning about conservation, nature, or other outdoor skills. Somehow the boy scouts manage to raise a lot of money without such an emphasis on product sales and I wish the GS would take a page from their book.

    Honestly though the thing that bothers me more than the palm oil is that the GS as an organization did not move mountains to remove the palm oil from their cookies. The entire GS programming is about empowering girls to learn and advocate and work to change their worlds. So 2 GS come along and present research to the org and they’re basically told that GSUSA can’t control what their bakeries use in their cookies and that the bakeries have said that removing palm oil is impossible. So these girls did exactly what GS had been teaching them to do, wanting them to do and then HQ just shuts them down? How is that empowering? And how can you expect future girl scouts to advocate when their own org doesn’t do everything they can to help them to succeed? And how to motivate girls to advocate and act when they cannot even change their own organization? GSUSA should have seen this as an opportunity to change and to show the country and girls all over the world that girls CAN change things – I mean, isn’t that what they want the girls to do?

    Regardless, I have a troop and my girls are free to sell or not sell cookies as they choose. I struggle with these other issues and how to proceed in my role as a leader – change from the inside? Focus on my troop? Try to work my way up the GS leadership ladder? Forget it happened? I’m not really sure!

  • http://www.spoonfedblog.net Christina @ Spoonfed

    Cookie Monster, it’s actually highly debatable whether cookie sales are a valid learning experience for the girls. I’m glad you’ve seen positive results, but the fact is that many other people have not. Read through the comments here, on the Fooducate Facebook page and on my original post on Spoonfed, and you’ll see what I mean. Even people who don’t mind the ingredients have shared examples (from the trenches) of how cookie sales are not the financial and entrepreneurial learning experience that the Girl Scouts claim.

    And there are plenty of other ways to support individual Girl Scout troops and councils without selling/buying the cookies. (Just as there are plenty of ways to have similar experiences outside the Girl Scouts organization.)

    You mentioned that the bakeries have “made tremendous commitments to producing healthier products.” But “commitment” does not mean “action.” Saying they’ll do something and actually doing it are two different things. And Troopleadernocookies made the excellent point above that the Girl Scouts missed an opportunity on the palm oil, not only to remove a problem ingredient, but also to reinforce that values and advocacy matter.

    As for Juliette Gordon Low? Well, I suspect she’d be horrified at what’s happened to cookie sales (and ingredients).

  • http://www.facebook.com/eva.rinaldi Eva Rinaldi

    Posts like this are the reason I have to take breaks from blogs like this one, and the reason I didn’t eat healthily as a child or teen. The only examples I had of adults who ate healthy, organic, etc. foods were those who were very… Type A, certainly, but also very strict. I don’t think wanting to eat healthy foods should mean that you can’t live a normal life, or that you should spend long periods of time researching, comparison shopping, etc. I don’t want to spend more than an hour or so seriously thinking about what I’m eating and preparing it during the average day. I don’t want to have my eating habits inconvenience my friends or keep them from inviting me to hang out.

    Most people already know girl scout cookies are not the healthiest thing in the world. But they fit the definition of a treat very well… If you buy, say, 2 boxes once a year at cookie selling time, and eat them sensibly over a period of time, you’re not likely to have a serious effect on your health from only that.

    I’m personally against them for other reasons-Part of the purpose of girl scout cookies is to teach girls about work and business, but most of the time, I don’t see the actual girls doing any of the selling. I can understand why it would be dangerous for little girls to go door to door alone, but They don’t put up or make flyers, decide where to sell, etc. A lot of times, you never even see the little girl who’s selling you the cookies. There are lots of ways a creative troop could keep their members safe while still letting them have the experience of selling cookies. I know, because I did a lot of them as a young girl.

    But… The tone of your post is unhelpful. Okay, so girl scout cookies are unhealthy. Why not do something positive about it instead of just not selling them and telling others about your decision? Start a petition to get them to change the recipe… you might not be able to do everything at once, but you could definitely get them to switch from palm oil to another healthier, more eco-friendly ingredient. It wouldn’t fix everything, but it would be a start. Or you could offer ways to help people who want to buy cookies lessen the impact of the unhealthy ingredients…. Buying fewer cookies and adding them to better for them desserts sparingly, for example (This is how I eat thin mints… I take two and grind them up, then eat with organic vanilla yogurt and chopped strawberries.) Or links to recipes to make similar cookies out of healthier ingredients. You could even do a troop mom teaching day (I’m not sure what they’re called, but every troop has the opportunity for parents to come in and teach a skill to the troop) and teach the girls in your daughter’s troop how to cook a simple, healthy recipe.

    Just… whining about how girl scout cookies are unhealthy and you don’t think anyone should buy them? That’s not emotionally healthy and will read as an attack to people who’re used to these traditions and are just starting to change their ideas about food.

    • http://www.spoonfedblog.net Christina @ Spoonfed

      Eva wrote: “I don’t think wanting to eat healthy foods should mean … that you should spend long periods of time researching, comparison shopping, etc.” But see, that’s exactly the problem. Our food supply has become so adulterated that indeed people do need to spend that kind of time. Because if we don’t, then food manufacturers and marketers (and the Girl Scouts are both) will keep feeding us crap. Now, as a professional journalist and blogger, research is kind of my thing. Same with Fooducate. So I hope we help people cut through the noise so not everyone has to spend the kind of time we do.

      It sounds lovely to think we could just start a petition and get the Girl Scouts to drop palm oil, but as Troopleadernocookies noted in another comment, the organization had the chance to do exactly that when its own scouts protested, yet it didn’t. The only way to get corporations/huge organizations to change is to keep pressuring them to do the right thing. That means calling them out on unhealthy and unethical practices. It means raising awareness and asking people to think critically. And it means questioning why we blindly follow “tradition” when that tradition is both bad for our health and of questionable educational value.

      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.

      The food industry loves it when people justify food choices by claiming “everything in moderation” — because those are the golden words that absolve food makers of responsibility. But the truth is that plenty of ingredients are not OK in moderation, nor do they actually exist in moderation.

      Take artificial colors. A parent might figure, hey, what’s one brightly colored cupcake at a birthday party? But what about the birthday party the next week? And then the lollipop at the bank, and the frosted cookie at Grandma’s, and the candy handed out as a reward at school, and the sports drink at soccer? Not to mention the pickles and marshmallows and tortilla chips and countless other foods that look “natural” but actually also contain petroleum-derived food dyes. When people start realizing what’s in their food, “moderation” loses its appeal.

      • SurvivedCookieTime

        I’m sorry, but this is a blog; a bastardization of an OpEd article. In no way can it be considered journalism. Journalism, typified by Edward Murrow and others of his ilk, showed both sides of an issue and led others to make a decision based on facts, not on insufficient research and slanted muckraking opinion.

        Reading this ‘piece’ was as painful as watching Sarah Palin speak. Or watching Fox News.

        Basic research should have led you to the GSA National website where you could have ascertained what exactly were in those cookies.

        There, you would have learned that -

        The LA Counsel gets almost 80% back to the Troop. A lot of that money was used in previous years to fund girls with limited family income the same opportunities as the more well off families.

        All 8 varieties have 0 trans fat – but you wanted to use outdated info from 2006 so you said ‘toned down’ not ‘non-existent’.

        5 varieties have no hydrogenated oils.

        4 varieties are nut-free and produced on nut-free lines to avoid cross contamination.

        Only 1 cookie has High Fructose Corn Syrup

        For a cookie, they’re pretty darn healthy. But hey, picking on the Girl Scouts gets a lot more ‘views’ than say, picking on Nabisco, hey?

        I will concede the palm oil eco-tragedy with the stipulation that those UK Girl Guides got the UK and Canada to go mostly Palm Oil free in minimal time. The USA tends to lag behind…but it will join in probably within 2 to 3 years is my educated guess. A bit more research and you’d have seen that those same Girl Scout types who’ve been ‘pushing’ cookies were instrumental in at least getting Kellogg’s to mouth a ‘no palm oil’ initiative. Personally, I’ll believe them when I see it.

        Girl Scouts are instrumental is achieving change. Others just talk about ‘inspiring others’ to change.

        The entire point of selling these cookies is to teach a girl to look somebody in the eye and ask for something and, most importantly, to face rejection and keep on going. It teaches a girl to set goals, work for rewards, be timely, count money, be self-confident, and especially, to be responsible.

        Are there parents who sell the cookies for their children, yes. Should they? No.

        I think Guest hit the nail on the head when she said “You mean I can just give my scout leader a hundred bucks and not have to spend weekends schlepping my kids and boxes of cookies around in my minivan, having 9 or 10 people shut the door in our face?” Guest is not interested in teaching her child to face rejection and keep on going. Guest is interested in not being inconvenienced. And that’s OK too.

        But when Guest’s child is a teenager and facing decisions needing the above positive traits, can Guest feel confident that her child will not as easily succumb to peer pressure? Children need small setbacks when young to face larger setbacks when older. Especially girls. And especially in this day and age.

        Unless you’re a helicopter parent and will always be there to bail your child out of any jam.

        I’d have been more kindly inclined to understanding Guests viewpoint if she didn’t have a non-eco-friendly minivan, tho. What? No hybrid?

        My daughter loves selling these cookies. She’ll talk to anybody and everybody about the ingredients, the history, the production, the negatives, the positives, and her plans on being a CEO. At 9, she’s received more job offers than I have in my entire life.

        She genuinely cares about ‘her’ customers, their likes and dislikes, her hometown and Girl Scouts. She has no problem ‘sharing’ and tries to help the younger Scouts reach their goals and offers advice to any Scout who wants it.

        She donates her own money to buy cookies for the Food Bank or for the soldiers overseas with Operation Cookie Drop and thereby practices another Girl Scout virtue – concern for others.

        There is a huge difference between ‘concern for others’ and sanctimoniousness.

        Continued Good Luck on becoming a Journalist!

        • http://www.spoonfedblog.net Christina @ Spoonfed

          SurvivedCookieTime wrote: “Basic research should have led you to the GSA National website where you could have ascertained what exactly were in those cookies.”

          You’re right. And it did. And those are the links and ingredients lists I provide above. There’s no definition on earth that would conclude that such ingredients make these cookies “pretty darn healthy.”

          You also wrote: “A bit more research and you’d have seen that those same Girl Scout types who’ve been ‘pushing’ cookies were instrumental in at least getting Kellogg’s to mouth a ‘no palm oil’ initiative.”

          Actually, that happened after this piece was published, and after the two Girl Scouts I mentioned had gotten this and other media attention. I would have loved to have included that, but I’m not a psychic.

        • Carolyn Thomas

          SurvivedCookieTime wrote: “Children need small setbacks when young to face larger setbacks when older. Especially girls.”

          Oh, please. Let’s have some info “based on facts, not on insufficient research and slanted muckraking opinion” – as you say.

          Can you possibly be implying that the character-building value of shilling cookies is to “face rejection and keep on going?” In that case, there are a lot of mothers out there who are stronger human beings today since so many of them are doing it for their girls. Let our daughters face setbacks by selling apples, like the little Boy Scout Beavers here in Canada do.

          Unfortunately, your defensive response confirms that you have missed Christina’s point entirely. Her post is decidedly balanced. Yours is not.

          Continued good luck on becoming open-minded.

        • Ottowash

          “Little girls are so emotionally fragile that selling cookies is the only way they can gain confidence. My daughter is better than yours.*raspberry*”
          That’s what I hear when you talk.

  • Kerri Arthur

    As a Mother who is also a scout leader I must say I am with you. I have just started my food crusade and have stamped out all artificial food and ingredients from my family’s diet. I agree with Christina the problem exists because we perpetuate it. If people started caring about the food they ate and didn’t buy the super processed foods that are laden with chemicals and adding to the health epidemics in this country then companies would stop making them. We all need to be informed and pay attention to what we eat and how it affects our life. I bought cookies this year before I smartened up, but next year I won’t be buying any and if that means I have to quit scouting, which I would hate, so be it. Personally I wouldn’t want to be in a group that would not allow me to stand by my convictions, and I think that would be a far greater lesson for my daughter.

  • Amber

    As a lifetime Girl Scout, I think the national organization would welcome your criticisms and wants to work to make a healthy alternative. I think they would be more than happy if all the girls did analyze the ingredients and realized they’re crap and demand alternatives.

    It’s pretty sad to brush off such an amazing organization that has helped so many girls and young women because of something that happens for one month out of the year.

    You don’t have to sell cookies, your daughter doesn’t have to participate.

    Unfortunately a girl’s experience in Girl Scouts depends a lot on her troop and the women leading the troop, but I had an amazing experience and got so many opportunities: horseback riding, national and international travel, exploring my passions, volunteering and helping others, planning events and service projects. The benefits can be enormous.

    • Former GS&Leader

      Unfortunately, over the years, my letters to the national organization went unanswered. When the GS rolled out that turkey of an idea that was Studio 2B, the girls here in the PNW absolutely howled. National’s response to this was to sponsor a discussion where they sent a PR “handler” who stood in the room and kept telling the girls, “We have heard you and we know this is what you *really* want… you just don’t understand the program yet…” I left with a group of very angry girls (Cadettes and Seniors) who felt that national wasn’t interested in a damn thing they had to say.

      GS loses a lot of its older girls because it has a difficult time staying relevant to many. In the push to keep girls in with a “feel good” vibe (a la Studio 2B) a lot of the rigor of the program was sacrificed and some of our best scouts left.
      At the highest management levels, GS has a hard time deciding what it wants to be. Instead of strong leadership, they float ideas out to the councils/troops, then when it is met with resistance, they “rethink” the program. When I was a leader, I felt like a Duncan Yo-yo trying to keep up with all the “rethinks.” IMHO, the reason this happens is that GS tries to be too many things to too many girls. As a result, the mission gets muddy and they wind up being less relevant to many. Of course, a broader mission allows them to get more “numbers” which is a magic word when it comes to non-profit funding.

      Looking at the oldest scouts only – I can’t tell you how many times I have had to describe the GS Gold Award to people as the “GS equivalent of the BSA Eagle Scout.” Why is that? People sure know what an Eagle Scout is… Frankly, many of the Gold Award projects I have seen are far more rigorous. Unfortunately, in many ways, GS has sacrificed a commitment to rigor in favor of making girls feel more warm and yummy. This happens earlier in the program so many bail before they age into the highest levels. So, the question becomes, is GS reasonable for trying to be too many things to too many girls or should GS tighten their mission to be highly relevant to a smaller number of girls?

      You mentioned all of the activities that you were able to do as a Scout. How were those activities funded? I spent an enormous amount of time engaged in fund-raising activities with girls – Xmas tree recycling, can/bottle drives, crafts for holiday bazaars, and other things, in addition to selling cookies… As a leader who took US girls to the Savannah Birthplace and WAGGGS Our Chalet, I know stuff like that is simply not paid for with just cookie money.

  • http://ethicalnag.org/2010/03/10/girl-guide-cookies/ Carolyn Thomas

    Christina, you’re likely surprised to learn that your behaviour is “criminal” and “unhelpful”, “not emotionally healthy”, “whining”, or that you have “hangups”. And here you thought you were just bringing an important issue to public attention…

    There’s a far bigger reason for avoiding cookies from the Girl Scouts (or Girl Guides here in Canada) – and it’s not just about nutrition.

    It’s a cookie, for Pete’s sake – a treat! Even Dr. Susan Rubin, whose essay first introduced me to the alarming issue of “eco-nightmare palm oil”, admitted that, as a treat, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a cookie. And she’s a dentist! She goes further – she wants the cookie sales program to “go extinct” – and I couldn’t agree more. But before you lump me in with the “criminal” and “emotionally unhealthy” Christina, please learn more about what is concerning Dr. Rubin and a growing number of others.

    FYI, the U.K. Girl Guide organization has already removed ALL palm oil from their cookies – so this change is entirely do-able.

    A year ago, I wrote about this same issue, admitting that it’s a wee bit like trashing the work of Santa Claus or Mother Teresa. (Read the original article at: “Why You Should Not Buy Girl Guide Cookies This Year”) which includes links to the U.K. data and Dr. Rubin’s excellent work: http://ethicalnag.org/2010/03/10/girl-guide-cookies/comment-page-1/#comment-10361

    • http://www.spoonfedblog.net Christina @ Spoonfed

      Carolyn, yes, thanks for mentioning Susan Rubin’s work. I know her well, and in fact my palm-oil link above goes to her article on this topic.

      Also, for anyone who’s interested: I just posted a follow-up on Spoonfed, in which I talk about reactions to this post. I also revisit the two girls who created a campaign to get the Scouts to ditch palm oil. And I comment on the Scouts’ new “cookie strategy” and weigh in on the moderation myth:

  • a proud girl scout girl

    i love selling girl scout cookies and always have. it teaches life lessons and you saying how you think girl scout cookies are bad for you (there supposed to) it really hurts me! i hope i meet you cause i would offer you some to make you angry i can’t believe you don’t like them. we go through all this work to make some money (and im a girl scout so i know how it goes). it takes me a long time to sell all my cookies and i bet if you really were a girl scout you would get joy out of seeing happy cookie filled bellie

  • Liftgal

    Its funny how people use the word “deprive” when a food is not allowed…What doctor worth his license would tell anyone to eat such crap? How is the child deprived? You cant/generally don’t miss what you’ve never had. Its people who can’t control their food urges and who use foods as a pacifier or crutch who constantly try to convince us were being “deprived” by not eating Girl Scout cookies, cheese slathered pizzas, blue drinks, salt laden kiddie snacks, colas and the like…None of which I’ve had in the past 3 years and don’t miss because I made the decision to not eat or never start eating. The biggest example the author can be to her child id not be a hypocrit…writing about the bad things such additives and ingredients do to our bodies while allowing her child help make others ill by selling cookies for a badge @10% on the box.

    • mari

      Very, very well said!

  • gsmom

    AS a Girl Scout Leaders for 4 years now with my daughter, I agree with I would rather just donate money than to deliver the cookies. In most council of Girl Scouts, you can’t do other money raising activities unless you support the council money raising activities. So in the council I in, we don’t do one of the activities because we couldn’t sell it, nuts and candy. We did better on the cookies, but we can’t do any other money raising thing because we didn’t do one of the council projects.
    We have families struggling to survive now, and selling cookies no money comes out of their pocket.
    Yes the cookies are junk food as is ever other cookie in the world. There are girls that cover their camp cost or some of it selling these cookies. They did it with help from parents, and I know they felt great knowing mom didn’t pay for camp.

    • http://www.spoonfedblog.net Christina @ Spoonfed

      Gsmom, I’ve heard that same thing from other parents — that they can’t do separate fundraisers unless they also do the council fundraisers. And that shows pretty clearly how the focus of GS fundraising has moved away from the girls and toward the top offices, which is yet another reason to be thinking critically about these sales. And, personally, I’d rather donate money for a disadvantaged Scout to attend camp than buy cookies from her and have only a fraction of that money help out anyway.

      I don’t agree that all cookies are junk food, actually. Made with real ingredients, a cookie doesn’t have to be junk. The problem with GS cookies is not that they are junk food — it’s that they’re not even food!

  • Linda

    Christina, just watch Food Inc. and The World According to Monsanto and ee your guilt go out the window along with the Girl Scout Cookies. What if your readers just cut the girls a check or hand them some cash to help fund their troup instead and just say ‘No thanks’ to the cookies. The danger of consuming GMO products are recited all over the internet. Supporting any GMO products is bad for the farmers who have been run over by these huge corporations. They are bad for animals to consume and us. Don’t even get me started on how bad they are for the environment. Did you know that a farmer gave his animals of choice of GMO feed and non-GMO feed and the animals practically crawled over each other to eat the non-GMO choice? The same experiment was conducted with birds and squirrels with the same results? But when it comes to humans we make one excuse after another. We’re not using our heads when we support food corporations who are actually indifferent to our health. They don’t make cookies to help out the Girl Scouts. They are using the Girl Scouts to make money and to continue pushing their GMO ingredients on an unsuspecking public. So, YES CHRISTINA!! Go for it! YES, go public! YES, inform others and be come part of the movement against GMO’S in this country and others too. WE have to fight back one cookie box after another. Just give the kids some cash and ask them to put it towards the needs of the troup instead. Good Luck and Welcome to the ever growing group that will force our government to do their job and protect us from these GMO corporations.

    • http://www.spoonfedblog.net Christina @ Spoonfed

      Thanks, Linda, and no worries — no guilt here! I’m a big fan of the movies you mentioned, and in fact recently wrote a piece about GMOs that you might find interesting: http://spoonfedblog.net/2011/02/05/the-abcs-of-gmos/

      It’s called “The ABCs of GMOs: Alfalfa, bureaucrats and a conversation with a kid.”

      And yes, many readers have told me that’s exactly what they’re doing — skipping the cookies and donating directly to the girls. I wrote more about that in a follow-up post called “It’s not just a cookie”: http://spoonfedblog.net/2011/02/19/its-not-just-a-cookie/

  • Dolove

    There should be more girl scout alternative. I think it’ll be cool if they made bracelet or other arts and craft stuff. I’ll buy that. :)

  • Z Recommends

    We posted an open letter to the Board of Directors of Girl Scouts USA on our blog. I thought you and your readers might be interested in reading and/or sharing it.

  • Tiffanyjmattison

    Bravo!! Girl Scout cookies are NOT good. Maybe in the “80′s”, but I am glad to see that our society has progressed in their eating habits. I would think by now that they would offer healthy versions.

  • sarah

    My children have never had a girl scout cookie and never will as long as they contain the ingredients that they do.  We *gasp* bake our own cookies together.  Just because the Girl Scouts do some good things does not mean I need to spend my  money buying products that will negatively affect my family’s health.

  • jess

    the story about the girl scouts fighting palm oil made it to the wall street journal today http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704281504576327733659636782.html

  • Ginammoon

    Well said!! I have been a girl scout leader now for three years and feel exactly the same way. I can’t believe with as many good things as they do for the girls ….they haven;t even adopted one healthy cookie option.   My moms have a choice to opt out and I completely support it. I would support any movement to get together and work with this on a national level.

  • Thejadedlens

    So with you on this. My daughter just joined Girl Scouts. Heck, my kids shout joyfully at the ice cream truck to stop selling ice cream with unwholesome ingredients to unsuspecting kids. So asking my daughter to sell crud had me momentarily distressed. But now, with the help of another GS momwho cares, we are going to launch an awareness campaign within our troop, and elevate things as far as we can.

  • http://www.facebook.com/julielovesdave Julie Anne Allen

    I have been a scout leader for many many years. Cookies support our low incvomke troop and to let you know some facts you may NEVER do any other fundraiser unless you have participated in fall product (nuts and candy) and cookie sales by council first! Then it must be approved as well. You can not sell party lite, pampered chef, yankee candle etc as it generates a profit for someone else. You may do yard sales, bake sales, car washes but only after participating in council product sales first. The cookies taste amazing – tagalongs and thin mints are my favorite – our troop usually sells about 5,000 or more boxes a year and never have we met a soul who did not like our cookies or refused to allow their child to sell cookies – it is a HUGE lesson in more ways than one and our kids decide how many boxes they need to sell in order to go on the trips they would like to take for the year. Sorry you do not agree but there are folks everywhere who outnumber the nay sayers and support girl scouting thank goodness!

  • Rocky Balboa

    This whole topic has been on my mind for some time now. I too do not buy Girl Scout cookies because their ingredients are bad for the health. I’m ok with Palm oil being used but don’t know much about the issue of Palm tree farming depriving Orangutans’ habitat. I will educate myself more on that.

    It irks me to no end when I see Moms and the young scouts selling the cookies because it gives the impression that the whole purpose of scouting is to sell something so that they can learn about business regardless if what they sell is plain garbage for the human body!

    No, if I was in charge of the Scouts I’d reform the whole program. First of all scouting is not about learning business it’s about scouting! How about camping out, learning how to survive in the wilderness. It’s about building character and learning respect for elders among other things.

    I would like to see a remake of the GS image in TV and internet ads showing them in action (Rock climbing, rappelling, starting a camp fire with flint, helping the elderly and poor with their daily needs like shopping, etc…) doing something other than hanging out at the exit of supermarkets selling those awful commercial cookies.

    I’m ok with fundraising but I don’t agree with the current program method: Buy cheap garbage and make small profits so that the scouts can do a sleep over at a museum or something like that! Let’s promote doing some scouting things with the raised funds like buying camping equipment or paying for the transportation for the camping trip or paying for something that would benefit the elderly or poor .

    Next, instead of selling commercial crap cookies why not buy organic bake mix, teach the scouts how to make cookies and sell the cookies outside health stores. In fact why not make a deal with big healthfood chains like Henry’s or Sprouts in doing the foregoing? Customers can get a taste of the cookies as samplers and then buy the mix themselves when in the store and in exchange get a discount on the bake mix as further incentive to buy. Then the store can donate a portion of the sales to the GS and everyone wins: The GS because they raise money and actually learn how to bake and because the funds would be used for true GS focused activities. The cookie buyers would win because they can eat healthy and tasty sweets while supporting a good cause and the Health food store would win in that it will present a more positive community minded public affairs image and could potentially increase sales of the bake mix used to make the cookies! The current program business model only allows for the commercial suppliers of cookies to win!

    That’s what I think and my suspicion is that as consumers become increasingly more health conscious the sales of conventional GS cookies will diminish.

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