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Let’s talk Girl Scout cookies

Iconic. I know, I know.

I was talking to a friend this past fall 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 what’s in Girl Scout cookies (including pesticide-laden cottonseed oil and eco-nightmare palm oil), lost my taste and haven’t thought about them since. 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 Tess joined in the fall, 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.

10% to 20%. Worth it?

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. 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.

I did learn about one badge that makes me feel like not quite such a nudge. Organic Pastures, a raw-milk dairy in California, has created a Raw Milk Badge for Girl Scouts who visit the farm to learn where milk comes from and why raw milk from healthy cows is good for you. Of course, they have to go and mention that whole milk-and-cookies thing, but, hey, it’s a start.

Now it’s your turn. As cookie season fires up all over the country, what are your thoughts? On the cookies. On the money and the fundraising. On how you’ve handled this with your girls or troops. Yell at me, agree with me. But let’s talk about this.

This post is linked into Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays.

On February 11, this post was reprinted by Fooducate.

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{ 96 comments… add one }

  • Kris Bordessa January 7, 2011, 3:05 pm

    I have issues with requiring kids to sell products of any kind – it just promotes more and more consumerism. But I find this particular sales project to be over the top. Teaching young girls to be wholesome and healthy and then selling crap? Pressuring young girls to sell, sell, sell and making the ones who don’t sell lots feel bad (I remember that from MY Girl Scout days!)? It seems to defeat the whole purpose.

  • Judy Bolton January 7, 2011, 3:22 pm

    I have issues with kids selling things, like Kris, and we do not participate in school fundraising events where my daughter would be asked to sell products. The catalogues/materials head straight to the recycling and/or garbage. I also don’t buy GS cookies – haven’t in years, and my daughter has never had one, either. If my daughter were to join GS (she has never asked, and I am not interested in suggesting it!), I’d opt out. We wouldn’t eat them, and I wouldn’t want her selling them. They can try to guilt me up all they want, but I’d opt out.

    Now, you say the site has verbiage to make you feel like a loser (I’ll read later), and I wonder what kind of in-person response you’d get, both from scouting leaders and fellow parents. Could be interesting.

  • Kira January 7, 2011, 3:22 pm

    I was a cookie selling machine back in my Girl Scout days… but you’re right, the ingredients have changed, and they don’t taste good anymore. I also refuse to buy them, both because the ingredients are highly suspect (my food preferences are in line with yours) and because I am aware of the distribution of funds. If I want to support a troop, I’ll donate my time or money directly to them instead.

    I have a recipe for homemade “thin mints” that are out of this world, and shortbread from scratch beats trefoils any day, so why would I buy some adulterated facsimiles?

    • Guest March 7, 2012, 10:48 am

      The exact ‘verbiage’ is, actually, quite reasonable.

      Q: Does a Girl Scout group have to sell cookies if they don’t want to?

      A: Girl Scout product activities offer girls a great way to finance their Girl Scout activities and special projects. Participation in product activities is voluntary and requires written permission by a parent or guardian. Annually, about 65% of registered Girl Scouts choose to participate in the Girl Scout cookie program.


      • Christina March 7, 2012, 10:58 am

        It is now, yes, but when I wrote this (a year ago), it wasn’t. The Girl Scouts have gotten a lot of heat over cookie sales (and palm oil) in the last year. Seems they’ve been doing some damage control.

  • Jane January 7, 2011, 3:32 pm

    I was a Girl Scout until later in life than most, and I just this year retired from a 6-year stint as my daughter’s troop leader. The cookie thing, aside from being a huge pain in the butt, is REQUIRED if you want to have any other fundraisers. In fact, it’s forbidden to have any other fundraisers if you also don’t participate in the nut and candy sale. Yeah right! I was actually “spoken to” for having a car wash in our final (gee I wonder why) year. (It actually was badge work—the girls were earning one about business and we donated the proceeds.) On top of all this nonsense, it started to be more and more time consuming to be a leader. You have to be trained and certified in this and that to do anything or go anywhere. I understand this is about liability, I just don’t want to have anything to do with all of that.

    OK so I’m going off track, but my point is that it would be easier, less time consuming and far less frustrating for you to start your own pseudotroop with some other parents and take the kids on a damned camping trip than it would be for you try to change the ways of the cookie.

    • Molly Hyde-Caroom January 11, 2011, 3:33 pm

      I have never thought of starting my own club to get girls doing the outdoors/good neighbor things that the GS do! What a wonderful idea, I may think about doing this!

    • Uly January 25, 2011, 3:45 pm

      Starting your own organization may be superfluous. The girls and boys scouts are not the be all and end all of the scouting movement in the US – there are already other organizations such as Campfire USA and Spiral Scouts that may act more in accord with your ethics.

      • Christina January 25, 2011, 4:51 pm

        I hear you, Uly, and I really have no desire to do such a thing. (And I think Jane was being facetious, to boot.) But there are plenty of opportunities to do good stuff with like-minded folks, without being part of an actual organization (which is what I bet Molly is thinking).

        I’d never heard of Spiral Scouts until now, so thanks for that. Sounds really interesting.

        • Bianca Williams January 8, 2012, 3:09 pm

          I too, had issues with my DD peddling cookies for all the same reasons. As mentioned, there are MANY other organizations that do not require you to compromise your values. My DD’s school pulled out of the GS program last year and brought in American Heritage Girls. I am now a troop leader and I am thrilled with what they stand for. Check them out if you are interested http://www.ahgonline.org.

  • Jen January 7, 2011, 3:45 pm

    I was a girl guide leader here in Canada. At our leader meeting prior to cookie season, they would try to teach us how to overcome objections to the fact that Girl Guide Cookies still contain trans-fat. I would ask “well, why don’t they just make healthier cookies?” and no one could answer me.

    • Christina January 12, 2011, 11:04 am

      Jen, I’d love to hear the lines they offered for overcoming objections to trans fat. Sad, though, that it comes down to spin instead of an actual solution.

  • Quincy Quincette January 7, 2011, 3:48 pm

    This wasn’t stated directly, but I got the vague impression that the Raw Milk people might be trying to say that pasteurisation is A Bad Thing. I don’t particularly like the idea that pasteurised milk is somehow worse for you than unpasteurised – pasteurisation removes a whole lot of pathogens which can cause a lot of problems, even if the cow is healthy.

    • Swan January 9, 2011, 6:26 pm

      Some of us consider pasteurized milk as less healthy than raw milk. I’ll leave you to do your own research, but the main reason most of our milk supply needs to be pasteurized is because of mass-production practices (subsidized by our government/us) that require it. Pasteurized milk is hard to digest & often causes inflammation (it’s also hard to assimilate calcium from pasteurized milk). Raw milk is a living food that contains all sorts of health benefits. Healthy cows raised on small farms rarely produce milk that needs pasteurization.

      • Kim January 10, 2011, 11:08 pm

        Kids have died from consuming raw milk. To my knowledge, no kid has ever died from consuming pathogens in pasteurized milk. If you want to endanger your own life by consuming raw milk, go right ahead, but giving it to children or the elderly or anyone else whose immune system is not yet fully developed or otherwise compromised is utterly irresponsible.

        • damaged justice January 12, 2011, 8:13 am

          Your knowledge is incorrect. And what is truly irresponsible is trying to place every individual in a bubble, protected from all harm..and then having the ignorance to be surprised when their immune system — sheltered by untold quantities of vaccines, antibiotics, hand sanitizers, and poison instead of real food — is unable to deal with something as simple as a cold.

        • Rebecca in Michigan January 12, 2011, 9:56 am

          Kim, I don’t have any documentation about kids dying from drinking pasteurized or unpasteurized milk, but I do have history. My husband’s family has been drinking raw milk since the early 1900’s There are 13 kids in my father-in-law’s family and 9 kids in my husband’s family and now 7 kids in my family. They have a small family dairy farm and everyone drank raw milk and still does. No one has died from this. I think the area of where you need to look at is, where did the milk come from? Is it a large farm or a small farm? We drink our milk from an organic small farm. I think that is the answer.
          My son has an immune problem and other son who has asthma and they do well drinking milk. I feel it is the best thing for them, as well as breastfeeding. We all have our own opinions and that is okay. Just be nice about it when you tell your opinion.

        • Christina January 12, 2011, 10:52 am

          Quincy, Kim and Cindy (who weighed in below), while it’s true that mishandling of raw milk can introduce dangerous bacteria, it’s also true that such cases are extremely rare (despite hype saying otherwise). The reason milk pasteurization was introduced in the first place is not because milk is inherently “dirty” — it’s because of mishandling by humans. And that’s why factory dairy farms pasteurize, because the conditions are so bad that they need to sterilize the milk.

          Doing so, however, kills valuable micronutrients and denatures the milk proteins. I’ll be going into this more in a post later this month (the same post in which I’ll be discussing the vegetable oils I mentioned in another comment). So I’d love for you to check back then for links to some good resources on the subject.

          In the meantime, I’ll say that raw milk from a trusted local farmer who follows good practices is far safer and healthier than industrial milk of any kind, conventional or organic. There are exceptions, of course, which is why you have to actually visit the farm, talk to the farmer, and see practices and conditions with your own two eyes. But that’s all part of being an educated and thinking eater.

          We’ve consumed raw milk in the past with no problems at all. We aren’t currently drinking raw milk because we just don’t drink enough to justify the trip and commitment it would take to buy it. But we do buy only local milk that is low-heat pasteurized. (There are different levels of pasteurization, which I’ll go into in that later post.) And we may go back to raw milk if we find a closer source where we can get smaller quantities.

          • Kelly the Kitchen Kop January 12, 2011, 12:51 pm

            Wow, what a great conversation, and you raw milk drinkers are doing a great job fielding the objections here. :)

            Oh the kids that have come to our door trying to sell us junk, it never stops. Whether it’s the Boy Scouts selling microwave popcorn or the band selling discounted meat or whatever it might be, usually I’ll give the organization a donation instead (if we’re close to the kids who are selling, otherwise it’s just a ‘no thank you’) since they’ll see more profit that way anyway.

            Last week our daughter came home with a “Jump Rope for Heart” flyer – it’s the AHA’s fundraiser at all the schools. No way do I want to raise money for them, as they are still spouting the same low-fat crap and telling us to eat more vegetable oils. Might have to post on this…


  • Judy Bolton January 7, 2011, 5:54 pm

    Wow, how do you overcome objections to Trans fats? I’d love to hear those lines, LOL. “Come on, just try a little… everyone else is doing it.”

  • Pamela P January 7, 2011, 8:42 pm

    Great post! I was a Brownie for about 10 minutes (like 30 years ago) but thought the whole thing was lame and hated the cookie-selling. I’m sure the quality of the experience depends somewhat on the group of girls and leadership of each troupe. Generally, though, I think the activities and experiences available through Brownies/Girl Scouts can be accessed on one’s own with a group of like-minded friends or through the many amazing classes and camps available here in Rochester. Sure, B/GS involvement would give some added incentives and structure to camping, extracurricular learning, etc. But the cookie-selling is a total no-go for me. I just couldn’t have my family associate with an organization that pedals such crap. And while trying to steer the organization to healthier fundraisers is certainly laudable if one has a particular desire to be a part of it, for me, there are just so many more important crusades to which I want to give my time and effort.

    And @Quincy, here is some info about raw milk: http://www.realmilk.com/what.html Also, the book titled the Untold Story of Milk is fascinating. I won’t re-type the info here, but there are solid reasons for choosing raw milk if one has access to a clean source. It is certainly not for everyone but I think it is important for people to realize that there are other options than highly-processed commercial milk. And it is really no more risky than eating sushi, raw oysters, or heck, spinach or peanut butter from your grocery store! Given the frequent recalls of commercial food products I am continually amazed at the paranoia surrounding raw milk. My family has been drinking it for nearly 4 years without any problem.

  • Au Coeur January 7, 2011, 10:36 pm

    This is great! I hadn’t had girl scout cookies since I was a kid, maybe in high school, but long before I had made the switch to eating real food. Then last year, our babysitters daughter was selling them and I thought, what the heck, I’d buy two boxes for old time sake. Gag. They tasted nothing like I remembered and nothing like FOOD. Just monotone sweet, corn-syrupy-grossness. They promptly went into the trash and that was that. We’ll never buy them again.

    I’m not sure how they may or may not factor into our decision to have our daughter be a girl scout or not. I really enjoyed scouting, but I’m not sure how the institution has changed since I was a child. There’s a lot more than just cookies I’ll have to research. I do sort of wonder, though, how necessary it might be for her, aside from the social aspect, isn’t scouting supposed to teach girls life skills they may not be getting at home? I garden, cook whole foods, bake from scratch (including bread), can and preserve, sew, knit, cross stitch, etc…if she’s getting all that at home, would she need girl scout badges?

  • Ness at Drovers Run January 8, 2011, 3:44 am

    I definitely think that the answer is to join, and then to raise as much awareness as possible. I think that the Girl Scouts have great values – and a little reminder that their own product doesn’t uphold their values will do a lot of good!

  • Sherri Carlson January 8, 2011, 5:25 pm

    My daughter is currently a brownie in Girl Scouts. A couple of years ago, I sent a letter to ABC Bakers expressing my concerns with the unhealthy ingredients in the cookies. No reply. I also contacted Ruth Bramson, CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts and sent her Susan Rubin’s information on the subject: http://www.betterschoolfood.com/what-are-you-really-eating/ . I asked Ruth to consider selling a healthier cookie. There are so many healthier versions in the market such as from Trader Joe’s, which are very yummy and fairly cheap.

    Susan Rubin suggested to Ruth that the Girl Scouts get out of the cookie business altogether, “go green” and sell “something that’s good for our wallets, waistlines and the world” instead. Ruth’s response was “What’s a calorie or two in the service of entrepreneurial development and financial literacy?” She completely missed the point of what we were asking (either that or she just didn’t care or want to make waves). Very frustrating.

    I considered asking if we could try a pilot program to sell alternative items in our troop. This would of course take a bunch of my time. In the end I just donated some money in lieu of selling the cookies. I could not in good conscience allow my daughter to sell such an unhealthy product. My daughter was mad at me since she didn’t get to sell cookies with her friends or eat any of them. It puts me in a bad spot; once again I have to be the “bad guy” and try to keep my child away from unhealthy food. Not that I always succeed when everywhere we go there is junky food.

    • Bri January 10, 2011, 12:22 pm

      I actually used to work for Girl Scouts of Eastern MA, and I can say one thing: individual councils and individual CEOs will respond differently to the cookie issue, but overall, they are beholden to the National organization — and the two bakeries that are certified to bake and distribute the cookies. Only if a huge groundswell of troops from all over the country started to protest the cookie thing would there be any hope of change — which is not to say that people shouldn’t try, but that it’s worth knowing what you’re up against and what it would take to make National sit up and take notice.
      The other things I would really LIKE to say regarding your experience with Ruth are best left unsaid, except for this: I’m very. Very. Unsurprised.

    • Christina January 13, 2011, 10:42 am

      Sherri, so disheartening to hear that reply: “What’s a calorie or two in the service of entrepreneurial development and financial literacy?” Yet it underscores just how seriously misguided so many people are when it comes to kids and food (and food in general). This is not about calories or indulgence or “treats.” This is about harmful ingredients.

      Kudos to you for trying, though. The more voices, the harder this will be to ignore.

  • Cindy January 8, 2011, 10:19 pm

    My girl sold GS cookies a couple years ago. She’s no longer in the troop and we buy fewer and fewer boxes every year. They don’t taste as good as I remember. Not at all worth the fuss anymore.

    As far as raising a stink about girls selling cookies full of unhealthy ingredients, I’d much rather devote my energies to improving school lunches and other everyday food experiences.

    Don’t even get me started about raw milk. Mishandling of raw milk can cause severe illness, organ damage or death. Not worth it. Not one bit. I’m speaking from personal experience here. Not not not worth it.

    • Kim January 10, 2011, 11:17 pm

      Cindy, I couldn’t agree with you more regarding raw milk. It’s too risky, ESPECIALLY for kids whose immune systems aren’t fully developed.

      • michelle January 11, 2011, 5:18 pm

        mom’s milk is best for the first year of course, but my family has been drinking raw milk since my son was 1 (5 years). my mom, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great grandmother and all my fathers, grand-fathers, etc were raised on the raw stuff.

      • damaged justice January 12, 2011, 8:15 am

        So when someone’s immune system is not fully developed, the solution is to prevent it from developing further?

        • Real justice March 7, 2012, 11:06 am

          Making someone seriously ill does not improve their immune system. Bacterial infections that require hospitalization will not make them stronger. That’s not how it works.

  • Melodie January 9, 2011, 12:30 am

    I just learned that American Girl Scout cookies and Canadian Girl Guide cookies are completely different. That aside, I think you’re right that girl scouts/guides need to get with the times. Those cookies came out when people didn’t think much about nutrition. Now it is a major deal for so many people, and if they want to continue to promote good health then it would only make sense to find another big money maker for the groups. Girls the age of 10-12 *can* smell hypocrisy.

    • Christina January 13, 2011, 11:01 am

      Melodie, I’m thinking you meant different in terms of types (vs. ingredients), because while I couldn’t readily find Girl Guide cookie ingredients online, I did find references to the cookies containing trans fat and palm oil. Though apparently not cottonseed oil, so there’s that.

  • Sarah January 9, 2011, 6:06 pm

    I just thought that you all should know that Girl Scout cookies are made at different bakeries throughout the country. So you can’t generalize all the cookies. In our region we use little brownie bakers and there are NO hydrogenated oils of any kind, no preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, they’re TBHQ free, they’re made only with pure vegetable oil and are kosher. You should be able to find this information on your local counsel’s website. Something else you should know about Girl Scouts, they are a funded by United Way and therefore fall under United Way guidelines. That being said, their fundraisers are regulated, that’s why you can’t just go out and do your own fundraiser. All I’m saying is do a little research in your area and get all of your facts straight before you go bashing the entire organization.

    • Christina January 9, 2011, 6:35 pm

      Sarah, I just checked the Little Brownie Bakers website, and the ingredients are the same as the page I linked to, including partially hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup. But, more than that, the cookies are loaded with other refined sugars. And industrial vegetable oils in fact are not good for us, despite years of food-industry propaganda saying otherwise. I’ll be writing more about this as part of a post later this month, so check back then if you’re interested in details.

      As for independent fundraising, I was clear about the fact that I was just starting to explore my options, including whether alternate fundraising was even a possibility. No shortage of research over here, I can assure you.

      • Bri January 10, 2011, 12:23 pm

        …And there are only two bakeries, not many. Little Brownie is one; ABC bakers is the other.

  • Bettina at The Lunch Tray January 10, 2011, 12:00 pm

    Love that you’re taking on this sacred cow! I’m sending my readers your way to post comments. Can’t wait to hear what everyone has to say.

  • Renee January 10, 2011, 1:00 pm

    I was in a girl scout troupe for a year back in grade school (we’re talking the early 70’s here). I didn’t like it, but I imagine that had a lot to do with the leaders and other kids –it was very cliquish and that experience turned me off to Girl Scouts forever. My daughter is 10, and Girl Scouts has just never come up.

    However, if I were in your shoes, what I’d be worried about is how my daughter might feel left out (ostracized, even) by not being allowed to sell the cookies with her friends in the group. I totally agree with you that those cookies shouldn’t be sold at all, but if you allow (or encourage) your daughter to join GS, then you’re putting her in an awkward position. I guess at least I would want to warn my daughter about the issue before she joined.

    We do have an acquaintance who’s daughter sells the cookies, and out of guilt I usually by a box or two. And they tend to sit on the shelf until they’re stale because we try one and don’t care for them enough to take a second. Next time I’m going to try to be more prepared, and suggest just donating money directly to the troupe, instead of buying cookies.

    • Christina January 10, 2011, 1:41 pm

      Renee, I’m not sure Tess even knows what Girl Scouts is, so it’s unlikely to come up unless I make a decision to talk to her about it. I’m actually not worried about her feeling left out of cookie sales. We’ve raised her from the start to understand that we all make different food choices, and that it’s OK to do so. This would be just another opportunity to learn that (with context, of course).

      • Renee January 10, 2011, 2:03 pm

        I might be a little over-sensitive to the “being left out” feeling –my daughter is allergic to peanuts and tree-nuts, so she ends up feeling left out of many food-related activities. She handles it well when she’s in the situation, but later at home we usually have some emotional discussions about how it feels to always be different in that way.

        It’s interesting to me, because my daughter chooses to be different in other ways –she doesn’t care for the same music as her peers, she chooses not to watch television, and she doesn’t like the emphasis on fashion that she sees in many of her female class mates. She doesn’t feel any need to “fit in” with those things, but the food thing can really upset her. My feeling is that it’s because this is imposed on her –not her choice.

        • Christina January 10, 2011, 2:11 pm

          Renee, you bring up a really great point about being different in non-food situations. I have some theories about why that is — and in fact I’ve been working on a post about this very topic — but I think you’re right that choice plays into it.

  • Kelly January 10, 2011, 2:06 pm

    “Only if a huge groundswell of troops from all over the country started to protest the cookie thing would there be any hope of change”

    I am completely neutral with the girl scouts, but I agree with the statement above that someone else made. My personal opinion is that if it’s frowned upon by National, then stand up against Girl Scouts and their cookies, and keep your kids out of it until you decide whether you can deal with it. That’s a burden your child shouldn’t have to carry.

    I would keep my girls away from girl scouts altogether based on that single fundraiser, but that’s just me. If your mission is healthful eating, and their single biggest fundraiser, the one that makes their name famous, is those unhealthy cookies, should you bother?

    Sounds like your daughter has enough going on, anyways!

  • anastasia January 10, 2011, 2:29 pm

    Sign her up, and infiltrate from within. I’m by no means a historian, but my vague recollection of Girl Scout cookie history is that girls used to actually bake the cookies. I imagine moving to manufacturers was both about quality control and volume. Now it seems like it’s big business for both the higher levels of the GS organization as well as the cookie manufacturers. I think they’re too caught up in their financials and history to see it’s time to look for alternatives. I can understand why they don’t see change is in their best interest, but it’s the interest of the girls they should really be looking after. It’s going to take someone to present some financially compelling alternatives before they allow their contracts to expire. My problem with the cookies is that they are bad, expensive and the girls get so little return. I would buy cookies once of year as a treat if the quality weren’t so poor. What I would buy even more so, however, is an alternative product that could be sold alongside the cookie, a product of the troop or local council’s choosing that would kick back the measly portion to the higher level, with the girls keeping the lion’s share. The product for me would be community coupons where I can get one time discounts at local businesses. It would be a better business learning experience, benefit local businesses who participate, and have very little cost to implement (layout and printing). I would readily plop down $20-30 for that and feel good about it. I would rather my local girl scouts had funds to support their activities, and my dollars be spent supporting local businesses rather than large cookie manufacturers who otherwise wouldn’t see a dime of my money. That’s just me. My bet would be they have rules against such an endeavor, possibly tied to language in the cookie manufacturers; contracts but I would rally for it as an alternative.

    • Christina January 13, 2011, 11:13 am

      Anastasia, such a great point about so much of that money supporting cookie manufacturers that “otherwise wouldn’t see a dime of my money.” Between these contracts and what others have said about the Girl Scouts’ fundraising rules, it’s easy to see why so many people just follow “tradition” without question. But I think you’re right that it’s become less about what’s good for the girls and more about what’s good for the bottom line.

  • Katy@ThoughtForFood January 10, 2011, 3:18 pm

    I had a similar conundrum this year — not with GS cookies, but a fundraiser for my son’s preschool where we were required to sell frozen cinnamon buns and holiday breads. It goes against everything I stand (and write) for.

    I too opted out, but not without much eye-rolling and manipulative argument from the other parents. When I suggested alternatives, their reply was that “nothing else will give us this much money for this little effort.”

    Well, when you put it that way. (?)

    The cookies (GS) don’t taste nearly as good as my memory recalls. Once you’re away from all that junk long enough, it’s true your tastes adjust.

  • Caneel January 10, 2011, 6:30 pm

    My oldest daughter just started Brownies this past fall. They will be selling cookies in a few weeks. *sigh* None of us can have gluten, so that right there is an issue. I’ll let her sell them, and so she doesn’t feel left out, I plan to attempt making GF versions of a few flavors. (If they are successful, I’ll blog them. They may not be so good! :)
    As for our immediate family buying any, I understand that we can also donate some to soldiers instead of keeping them. I like that idea better than giving them to food pantries where people are getting food that should nourish them. I’m sure there are lots of our troops that would appreciate that taste from home.

  • Caneel January 10, 2011, 6:34 pm

    I meant to add that I contacted Girl Scouts headquarters a couple of years ago when we were diagnosed, in anticipation of at least one daughter wanting to join at some point and thinking of the cookie selling. I was hoping they might provide GF options in their cookies. A response was sent saying they would look into the demand. I guess having approximately 1% of their girls having Celiac disease and many more having gluten sensitivity — not to mention potential customers — isn’t enough to warrant it. My daughter’s local troop is being helpful, though, about snacks at meetings and all. Here’s hoping for healthier options for more people in the future!

  • Kay Plantes January 10, 2011, 8:06 pm

    Christina, Tom Walter from Tasty Catering in Chicago suggested that I look at your blog post on GS Cookies. (I am a business strategist and write a blog on business model innovation.) When I was a Brownie, my dad convinced the troop to not sell cookies and instead sell a terrific light bulb he had access to (through Westinghouse) arguing we should sell something people need to buy to maximize our profits. The troop made a fortune that year! I dropped out of Brownies as I hated camping and like you I cringe when the Girl Scouts try to sell cookies at my door. (My kid fortunately elected dance and theater over a GS troop.) I wrote this blog on what wrong with major food companies’ business models. http://www.plantescompany.com/blog/external-change-forces/can-business-model-innovation-help-curb-obesisty/ You might enjoy it. Take care, Kay

    • Christina January 13, 2011, 11:24 am

      Kay, I’d love for troops to develop individual fundraisers that challenge them creatively and help them achieve true entrepreneurial and financial literacy. Sounds like that’s not a possibility under the current model. But with enough pushback, maybe it could be.

  • Melissa (My McDonald Meal) January 10, 2011, 8:53 pm

    What a great post! I am right there with you. First of all, I am not planning on signing up either of my girls for GS for many reasons with the cookie issue being one of the number one issues. Second, I would say target the local groups first with mentioning healthy fundraising options then go to the top. I work for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and we are on a mission to get schools and organizations to switch from food focused fundraising to other options. Here is a helpful list of options and reasons to switch. http://www.healthiergeneration.org/schools.aspx?id=4164

  • Kim January 10, 2011, 11:33 pm

    Great post! I’m disappointed to learn how out of touch the GS organization has become. I was a Brownie back in the ’60s and always looked forward to the activities and meetings. If I had a young daughter, I’d steer her away from scouting. This is truly a shame.

  • Viki January 11, 2011, 10:40 am

    Great post, I hadn’t really thought of this as my kids are older. Both girls were girlscouts for a very short time. Both quit rather quickly. I think the quality of the experience depends upon the leadership and the makeup of the group of kids. We all hated the selling of the cookies.

    From what I can tell Troops are locked in, they have to sell the cookies in order to be able to do other fundraisers. That the actual troop gets so little of that money is upsetting to me. Seems to me that there are better ways to earn money for camping trips and other fun stuff.

    Wish you could think of something Really exciting and different that would have kids flock to join with your kid instead of Girl Scouts.
    (Kids that plant Flowers in urban areas, tomatoes in flowerbeds, pick up trash and eat good food, protest bad school lunches and research raw milk before they freak out about it.)

    Mom wasn’t a girl scout…but she was in a group of some kind back in the 40’s…I know: Camp Fire girls or something like that…do they still have that group has it faded out?

    • Christina January 13, 2011, 11:35 am

      Viki, looks like the group is now called Camp Fire USA (and is now co-ed). But yes, it’s still around.

  • abby January 11, 2011, 12:38 pm

    After I kindly said no thanks on my way into the grocery store last year, the troop leader pressed me and said, Oh but those 3 little boys of yours would love some yummy cookies. I took the box, flipped it over,and in a kind voice read off all the non-yummy ingredients I don’t let my kids eat – she stumbled and said but they have no trans fat. I felt a little bad for her, but I got over it pretty quick.

    • Christina January 13, 2011, 11:40 am

      Love this, Abby. So often people just aren’t aware, but then they hear something like that and have a-ha moments of their own. I’d like to think you opened her eyes that day. If at least a little.

  • Bri January 11, 2011, 2:39 pm

    I agree, I agree, I agree. But there are some things that should be said, I think, to those who either plan to keep their children out of scouting altogether based on the cookie sale (as some of the commenters on the post have said), or who plan to boycott the sale of the cookies to make a nutritional point.

    I support the idea of finding a way to bring about change for the Girl Scouts, and gradually moving them away from utilizing the cookie sale as their primary means of income. It’s a very complex issue, though, and not something that can be undertaken lightly, or which will be impacted, sadly, by clusters of people boycotting individual sales in individual councils. This is a multi-national non-profit, and although the local councils are individually chartered (and therefore are responsible for their own fiscal solvency), ultimately the framework within which they must operate comes directly from the very, very powerful National office. If National wants the cookie sale to continue — and they do; it’s been historically quite successful, and it’s frankly a slice of Americana from which the organization is understandably loath to separate itself — then the local councils will continue with the sale.

    All Girl Scouting is not as it was in yesteryear, when girls were just sewing and cooking and learning to set a proper table. There are good things happening in individual councils around the country — really meaningful community service programs, cultural programs, all kinds of educational and enriching activities. It can be more than just s’mores and friendship bracelets, though it is not always (which is a shame). It’s supposed to be about leadership and opportunity. Many times, it is.

    When it comes to the cookie sale, I won’t say that I think the ultimate goal of teaching girls entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy is truly achieved by the way the typical sale is run. But as was pointed out in your post, and in the comments, the troop does keep some of those funds to help them access the kinds of meaningful programs and opportunities I’ve outlined above. I won’t give a lot of specific numbers, since it can vary widely, but keep in mind that 70-80% of a local council’s income line can come from the cookie sale. That’s a lot of people’s jobs riding on the sale of Girl Scout cookies.

    What I’m saying, I think, is that I don’t want people to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t buy the cookies; I really don’t care. But I want people to think about their individual point of view and their values when they make that decision. If they don’t want the cookies, and they don’t think their local council is doing a good job with programming, then fine — move on. However, if they look at their neighbor’s daughter, or the girl their kids go to school with, and they want to support her (but hate the cookies), I’d love to see them making the choice to speak with the troop leadership and the local council to arrange a donation, or to personally sponsor the participation of the troop in an affordable program of their choosing. Send the message about the cookies, but don’t withdraw your support from the girls or from the people whose livelihood actually depends on the success of that cookie sale as a fundraising effort.

    Lastly, I want to see people speaking up to Girl Scouts about their beliefs. If they feel strongly about the cookie sale, then they should send letters, emails, phone calls, whatever it takes to their local council AND to the National organization, GSUSA. They should be clear that they are in support of the girls and the organization, and that they’re choosing to make donations rather than buy cookies; otherwise, it’s easy for leadership to shrug it off as People Who Hate Girl Scouts and Wouldn’t Buy Cookies Anyway Because They Just Hate Everything and Everybody. What Girl Scouts needs to see is a large — and I do mean LARGE — segment of the population supporting the mission, and the girls, but asking for an alternative to the cookie sale to keep councils and programs afloat.

    I don’t think the cookie sale is ever going away in full, nor do I think it should. I think that, in some form, the sale of cookies has always been a little piece of the identity of the organization, and I think that in proper scale (which is WAY less than the current scale!), the cookies are fine. It’s just that it’s all out of proportion now. Girl Scout cookies, as of a few years ago at least, were the SECOND BIGGEST SELLER AMONG COMMERCIAL COOKIES. That’s nationwide. They were beaten out only by Oreos, which should tell us all something about scope — particularly since GS cookies are only sold for a limited time each year. We should be focusing on overhaul, not elimination. That would go a lot farther, I think, and make a larger impact.

    • Christina January 13, 2011, 12:03 pm

      Bri, thanks for all of this detail and perspective. I agree that every family should make an individual decision based not only on their needs and values, but also on the realities and potential benefits of their local council and troops. Thanks also for noting that, when objecting both locally and nationally, people should emphasize that they support the girls, just not the cookies. Because you’re right: Otherwise it’s too easy for the Girl Scouts to dismiss critics as cranky crackpots.

  • Molly Hyde-Caroom January 11, 2011, 3:23 pm

    I would love to thank you for this post. I have homeschooled for the past 2 years and was looking for activities for my daughters to participate in with other children. The cookie fund raiser was my primary reason for not doing GS. I wouldn’t want my girls to participate in selling an unhealthy cookie (or cookies at all) in a society where obesity is such a concern. I also think it’s unfair to ask young girls to sell cookies with ingredients that so many people are trying to avoid but feel the pressure to help out their granddaughter, niece, or neighbor which only reinforces the GS’s to keep selling them. While this is not the only reason we didn’t join (not 100% on board with all their viewpoints or guidelines) I was so disappointed that this is such a big part of being a part of GS. I am so glad to know that I am not the only one!
    What a great blog you have!

  • R January 11, 2011, 6:55 pm

    Wow. What a lot of negative, hostile commentary about Girl Scouts.

    My daughter is a Girl Scout and has been one for four years. She loves it. In her troop they can sell cookies if they want to and there’s no pressure if they don’t want to. She loves the outdoors and gets to backpack, camp, hike, rock climb, rappel, SCUBA dive, work with charities, teach younger girls, do crafts, cook, travel. She’s become emergency first aid certified. She hopes to earn her Gold Award. It’s been a wonderful experience all around.

    So what if you don’t like the cookies. I think it’s sad people would deny their daughters a chance to experience what my daughter has, just because they personally had “ten minutes” of “lame” experience thirty years ago, or Are Against Trans-Fats. There’s so much more to Scouting than cookies.

    • Renee January 12, 2011, 4:42 pm

      I certainly agree with you that my (or someone else’s) experience with GS can not be extrapolated as everyone’s GS experience, and I do think that the experience itself is really dependent on the troupe and troupe leaders.

      However, equally, you can’t really extrapolate your experience to everyone else either –it’s great that your troupe doesn’t require the kids to sell cookies or make a big deal of opting out. But it sounds like it might be a big deal in other troupes.

      Perhaps back when I was a kid in the late 60’s – 70’s, the experiences your daughter is getting through GS were hard to find in other places, but now it’s pretty easy to find ways in which your kids can do all the things you’ve listed with other groups. Heck, my daughter gets many of those experiences with her school class.

      Therefore, if a person does have a serious ethical or health problem with selling GS cookies, that seems like a good reason to stay away from GS.

    • Christina January 13, 2011, 12:22 pm

      R, I’m actually not seeing hostility, just frustration. (And much of it from people with firsthand knowledge of scouting.) But I get your point that there’s a lot more to Girl Scouts than cookies. And your daughter’s experience sounds wonderful. Curious: Where are you located?

      In our case, scouting is on my radar, not my daughter’s, so it may not even become an issue. And we already do a lot of those things ourselves. But if we decided to try GS and I could find a troop that offers the kinds of experiences you’re talking about, I’d have no problem participating with conscientious objection to the cookie sale. (And lots of advocacy explaining why.)

  • Allen In AK January 12, 2011, 5:44 pm

    The fats are just one of the nasties. Girl Scout cookies also contain TBHQ, a stabilizer used to mask rancid oils. TBHQ contains, among other things, lead. Nasty Nasty stuff. My daughters experience was that it was mandatory, and that the girls got next to nothing for it. My son sells about $10K worth of Boy Scout popcorn a year, which isn’t much better than Girl Scout cookies. They at least get a good chunk of money for their efforts. My daughter became the troop mascot, since GS didnt do any activities other than crafts and she has gone rappelling with us, shooting, etc. We havent sold popcorn in the last two years though. The politics are amazing. It is all about bringing in money and the kids have become an after thought. I still make my troop a good experience for the kids, but am having to constantly battle the political monster. Good luck with your decision.

    • Christina January 12, 2011, 8:46 pm

      Allen, I know Girl Scout cookies used to contain TBHQ, but the current ingredients lists don’t include it. (I’m looking at lists from the main GS site, as well as from ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers.) Seems maybe it’s been eliminated now? Though if you know otherwise, please share.

      It’s sad, though not surprising, to hear firsthand about the politics and money chase. That’s a lot of what concerns me. (BTW, does your son really sell $10,000 worth of popcorn a year? Or was that a typo?)

  • Bri January 13, 2011, 9:53 am

    Maybe it’s impossible to separate the cookie issue from the entire issue of whether or not you personally feel that Girl Scouts is a valuable experience and/or the right fit for your child, but I’m noticing that a lot of the comments are really starting to skew towards talking about Girl Scouts in general. It’s an experience that varies, definitely, from region to region and troop to troop, and no one thing is ever going to be right for every girl and every family. But I know I, for one, would like to see a little more discussion about the food issue, and a little less about the organization itself.

    • Christina January 13, 2011, 12:31 pm

      Bri, I just read through all the comments again while adding my replies, and there’s actually been a good balance of discussion about both the cookies and the organizational context. Seems this topic has struck a nerve, but that’s good. If we’re talking and thinking critically, we’re headed in the right direction.

      And I, personally, have no problem talking about scouting experiences beyond the cookies. In fact, that helps lend further perspective to the issue.

  • colleen @ foodietots January 14, 2011, 12:15 pm

    I just saw a poster up at my office that it’s time to buy Girl Scout cookies and cringed, like you I’m not happy about the ingredients. They included a note that if you don’t want to eat them, you could arrange to donate them to the troops overseas. Which is in line with something I believe you said about Halloween candy, and how the troops don’t need those bad ingredients either!

    Anyway, as a former Girl Scout and granddaughter of troop leaders, I wouldn’t stay away from the Scouts over this — I love the few suggestions of joining and infiltrating from within. If enough Scouts are educated and speak up, I’d like to believe they could inspire a change. (Why can’t they sell organic cookies? Probably at higher profit levels, even.) At the very least, troops could study nutrition/food issues in tandem with cookie sales. So no, selling cookies is not a deal-breaker for me — but it is an important issue that we should be speaking up on. Thank you for raising it here!

    • Christina January 15, 2011, 9:23 am

      Colleen, that’s an interesting idea to shift ingredients completely in the other direction and sell organic cookies. Then the GS could keep “tradition” while also acknowledging the need for change. And that would be quite a statement, wouldn’t it? Of course, the ingredients would have to be not only organic, but also wholesome, because otherwise it would look like just another marketing shtick.

  • Cynthia A. January 21, 2011, 10:06 am

    My favorite girl scout cookie quote comes from one of the Addams Family movies. When the GS come up to the Addams Family’s door peddling the cookies Wednesday asks, “Do they have real girl scouts in them?”

    • Christina January 22, 2011, 8:08 pm

      Too funny, Cynthia. Gives new meaning to the concept of “real” ingredients!

  • KathieW January 23, 2011, 9:44 am

    What is your “thin mint” cookie recipe? I would love the make these for my family. Thanks!!!!

  • Pamela P January 23, 2011, 8:58 pm

    Just read about this group and their stance on Girl Scout cookies: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2008/02/prweb724023.htm

  • damaged justice January 25, 2011, 1:43 pm

    I stumbled across these “raw girl scout cookie” recipes a while back. Too much sugar in them for me, but definitely much better than any commercial cookies I’ve seen, and they’re even mostly grain-free!


  • Kira January 25, 2011, 3:00 pm

    By request, here is my recipe for homemade “Thin Mints”.

    “Thin mints”
    1 1/2 cups flour
    3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp baking soda
    1 3/4 sticks butter
    1 cup sugar
    3 Tbsp milk
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 1/2 tsp mint extract

    Mix together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar, then add milk, vanilla, and mint. Slowly add the dry ingredients while beating. Once the mixture is well mixed (it will resemble coarse pebbles) use your hands to form it into a ball. Roll the dough into a 1 1/2″ diameter log, wrap in wax paper, and chill for 2 hours. Slice the dough into thin rounds and bake for 12-15 minutes on a parchment lined baking sheet at 350.

    For the coating:
    1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
    1/2 tsp mint extract

    Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then stir in the mint. Dip the cooled cookies into the chocolate and place them on a *cold* cookie sheet (this will keep the bottoms neat) and put the sheet into the fridge to help the coating set. After a few minutes they should be ready!

    You can top them with crushed peppermint stick or other garnishes before popping them into the fridge, too. I have been working on incorporating more whole grains into my baked goods, and I find that adding extra moisture usually helps prevent dry or overly crumbly end results. I have not attempted using whole grain flour in these, but I think I will give it a shot today and see what turns out!

  • Christina January 25, 2011, 4:40 pm

    Justice and Kira, thanks for the recipes. I love anything with cashews, and those “thin mints” sound great. I’ve had good luck using whole-wheat pastry flour for cookies and cakes, with no noticeable difference. Also maple sugar instead of refined white or brown. And that’s a great idea about amping up the peppermint with crushed candy. I bought some natural candy canes at Christmas (no dyes, HFCS or other crapola), and I have a few left.

  • KathieW January 25, 2011, 4:41 pm

    I have been waiting…hoping that you would post the recipe! I look forward to the results of your whole grain attempt. Can’t wait to make these – I think I need to buy mint extract first. Bummer!

  • Jennifer January 27, 2011, 11:03 am

    I’ve just discovered your blog and love it! Thank you for this interesting post on Girl Scouts. My daughter is a Brownie and I hate the idea of her selling cookies. I gave in because of peer pressure and I haven’t been strong enough to stand up for what I believe. I’m also new to changing the way I feed my family and I still have a lot to learn. I feel inspired after reading all the posts. Thank you everyone. Also love the back and forth dialog about raw milk. Looking forward to more interesting and educational posts. Thanks again!

  • Michele January 27, 2011, 1:56 pm

    Thank you for this post. I was looking for something like this a few weeks ago and couldn’t find one. My daughters are in GS and the whole cookie is really just a nuisance. I had no idea it was required and after reading this post and the comments, I’m going to “opt out” and just make a donation and give friends and relatives this choice. (I wish they could go back to making them from scratch using good ingredients like butter and sugar. It’s sad that germaphobia, allergies, laws, etc. have made that an impossibility.)

    At the beginning of the school year my daughter was selling these disgusting, sugary and ridiculously over priced pastries for the school’s arts program (which is severely underfunded). I wanted to opt out and just make a donation, but the reward for selling was so enticing, that she actually cried when we discussed opting out. Not being able to participate in the “fun day” reward with her friends wasn’t worth it. But my annoyance with these junk fund raisers is building and I’m willing to take a stand by opting out and finding even better ways to reward my daughters.

  • Mother February 2, 2011, 8:51 am

    Oh, yes. I found this because of recent henhouse ridiculousness that occurred in my daughter’s chapter. We only bought a few boxes. You would have thought we broke a major law. The troop leader herself even stated that it isn’t fair that all the girls get to benefit from a few girls’ hard work. I saw parents taking forms to work, hardly teaching the girls a thing.

    The palm oil and trans fats are another issue. I am on the “list” right now and I dread going back in there. My daughter seems to think it is fun, but I have never seen such silliness over our fourth, mind you, fundraiser this year…

    • Christina February 3, 2011, 8:18 pm

      Mother (well, not my mother, LOL): Glad you mentioned the parents bringing order forms to work. That bothers me, too, and underscores my argument that cookie sales don’t always teach the financial and entrepreneurial literacy that the Girl Scouts claim.

  • Michelle (What's Cooking with Kids) February 4, 2011, 11:57 am

    I always felt a little like a scrooge…but totally agree with you. I have a really hard time with this whole concept. I’d rather do a cooking class with a group of scouts and teach them about how to support their local farmers and cook from scratch than endorse this particular tradition. Glad to know I’m not alone…

  • Ghostwheel February 12, 2011, 3:45 am

    For years my daughter tried to keep up with everyone who had parents selling at work, while she walked every mile, sold every box, and delivered every box (compete with Thank you cards). In our council,you HAVE to sell cookies if you want to do any other fundraiser. So now my troop just recycles bottles/cans instead. They figured out for themselves that cookies are a fundraiser for the COUNCIL, not for them (see they’re learning something already). My daughter summed it up pretty well. “An entrepreneur doesn’t work for somebody else. Why should we take on the risk of THEIR cookies, when we get so little out of it?” Maybe there is something to be said about learning from the cookie sales…..

    • Christina February 13, 2011, 6:54 pm

      Ghostwheel, you’ve got one smart, um, cookie on your hands. Good for her!

  • Carolyn Thomas February 18, 2011, 8:57 pm

    Hi Christina – fascinating overview here! Thanks so much for this.

    For a similar Canadian perspective on Girl Guide cookies (we have only two types up here: the sandwich “classic” and the chocolate mint – both of which are baked with, as you call it, “eco-nightmare palm oil”) read: “Why You Should Not Buy Girl Guide Cookies This Year” which I wrote in March 2010 for The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics For The Easily Swayed: http://ethicalnag.org/2010/03/10/girl-guide-cookies/

    You’ll find there some revealing back-and-forth correspondence with the ‘Girl Guides Canada’ head office on this issue, as well as news about how Girl Guides in the U.K. have already painlessly solved the cookie/palm oil conundrum once and for all.

    I believe you and I are on the same page re the missed life lesson opportunity here that the organization’s executives are refusing to teach the girls by stopping the sales of these cookies once and for all. ‘


    • Christina February 19, 2011, 7:23 pm

      Carolyn, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing that link. I’m always amazed (though not really) at how ingredients vary between the U.S. and other countries. It shows, though, that change indeed is possible.

  • Christina February 19, 2011, 7:29 pm

    To anyone following comments on this Girl Scout cookies thread: I just posted a follow-up piece in which I talk about the response to this post (both on Spoonfed and when it was reprinted last week on Fooducate). 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. Here’s the new post: It’s not just a cookie.

  • Lynn Sue Mizner March 2, 2011, 2:14 pm

    I could not agree with you more. I’m so proud of you for taking such a courageous stand AND for having alternatives to propose. I like the seed-starding kit idea.

  • Rachel March 22, 2011, 11:12 am

    Thanks for sharing this, I actually haven’t had these cookies for a few years, but broke down and bought some this year. (it’s a memory taste if you know what I mean) I didn’t give any to my kids, but I ate them and just didn’t even read the label (didn’t want to see what was in them) I think I’ll try making the thin mints recipe someone added next time I get an urge, lol!

  • iris May 8, 2011, 5:23 pm

    In general, Girl Scout troops do other fundraising, besides just selling cookies. I sold magazine subscriptions, phone cards, and who knows what else (although it usually just ended in my mom giving me money, and me not selling anything). So, alternate fundraising options are always appreciated by the council/troop, but I highly doubt you’d be successful in getting any Girl Scout council/group to replace selling cookies with something else.

  • Jane May 8, 2011, 6:17 pm

    Right now, in the Western New York council, it is not permitted for any troop or group to participate in or organize any other fundraiser if that troop/group has not participated in both the cookie sale AND the candy and nut sale.

  • Chris January 24, 2012, 10:19 pm

    I sold gs cookies briefly in my grrlhood.. well, I was supposed to sell cookies but I was PAINFULLY shy (I now self-identify as Asperger’s)..so they just sat in the closet in my room- tempting me.. we didn’t eat cookies and stuff only homemade!! as my mom was a health food freak and the cookies in my closet were just too much for my self-control- I ended up having several binges and ate most of my product…. boy was my mom mad when she figured it out!!!
    We opt out of school fundraisers because they are all junk. I am suggesting a seed one next year- light items that are useful instead of destructive.

  • Sabrina January 25, 2012, 11:58 am

    DISCLAIMER: I am a former Girl Scout (8 years!) and a current Girl Scout leader. I love Girl Scouts.

    I appreciate the concern about healthy eating – I really do. I struggled with childhood obesity for years, and it wasn’t until I got to college and had full control (and therefore full responsibility) for my eating/exercise habits that I began to gain the upper hand in the battle.

    First, I think it’s important to note that Girl Scouts is about much more than cookie sales. Frankly, I’m surprised that the general public only thinks “cookies” when they hear the words “Girl Scouts.” On a personal note, my girl scout troop was one of the few “safe” social spaces I had growing up. Unlike sports or school, my Girl Scout sisters loved me despite my weight problems, and scouting gave me the opportunity to explore and learn new topics (i.e. foreign languages, math, etc.) that my crappy public school was barely addressing.

    The nutritional contents of cookies aside (because let’s face it – nobody is arguing they are HEALTHY), I think it’s a mistake to teach our girls (and boys) that “junk food” is an enemy that must be avoided at all costs. I’ve seen several posts reference already the prevalence of unhealthy food in school lunches (I remember Dominos pizza being sold at my high school for $2.50/slice EVERY DAY). This is just one example — our kids are inundated every day. Telling them that a box of cookies is the harbinger of death or childhood obesity accomplishes nothing – they are going to eat baked goods somewhere. Maybe not at home; maybe not at meals supervised by parents. But they will get their hands on cookies. Teaching them that it’s OK to buy a box of cookies, and have a couple as a snack (but not to binge on them) teaches a far more valuable attitude and understanding of moderation. At the end of the day, I’d rather be responsible for promoting the sale of GS cookies (and I enthusiastically encourage my troop to participate in sales, although no girl is “forced” to do so), which support a fantastic organization that provides a safe, nurturing, and enriching environment for girls, while still teaching the idea of moderation, than for teaching unrealistic lessons about nutrition and demonizing a truly amazing organization.

    Although I agree, it’s a logistical nightmare for leaders! =)

    • Sherri Carlson January 25, 2012, 7:13 pm

      Sabrina– I don’t think the point is that GS cookies are a ”
      harbinger of death or obesity.” It’s the fact that everywhere you turn there is highly processed, unhealthy food that is offered to our children. Everywhere. We need to start shifting away from the inundation of super unhealthy stuff, and one good place to start is with the Girl Scouts. Another important place is in the school lunchroom.

      What kind of message are the girls getting when they are asked to hawk stuff that is known to cause harm to your health? Have you taken time to read the ingredient list on the box?! Yikes!! I would not allow my daughter to sell the cookies. It goes against my principles. I could not in good conscience allow my daughter to push that on others, when I don’t want her to have it. Instead we give a donation.

      My kids eat their fair share of cookies at home. The difference is, they are homemade with organic ingredients, or store bought organic without trans fats, artificial ingredients, GMOs, preservatives and the like.

      How difficult would it be to instead sell something good for people and the planet? Wouldn’t it be a fantastic lesson, that you can successfully break away from a destructive ingrained habit and move towards something positive?? And I bet people would be grateful to buy something else besides low quality, guilt-inducing junk.

    • Christina January 25, 2012, 11:58 pm

      Sabrina, you might be interested in this follow-up post I wrote in response to the same kinds of points you raise: It’s not just a cookie. Among other things, the post addresses the (flawed) concept of “moderation.”

      Cookies are great. But this isn’t about cookies. It’s about ingredients. Even sweets should have high-quality ingredients. And the ingredients in Girl Scout cookies are bad news. I think our kids deserve better.

  • Kari May 1, 2012, 1:07 am

    My daughter loves Brownies but HATES the cookie slogging – to the point that she wants to quit next year. It’s a shame, but I told her that I understand – Requiring a 7 year old to sell 3 cases ‘per campaign’, or 72 boxes is excessive. This is in addition to the Saturday afternoon stints at Walmart and standing in front of our local liquor store selling to winos, etc. etc.

  • Elliander Eldridge April 1, 2015, 5:37 pm

    I was a boy scout and I sold anything from Chocolate, to Lollypops, to Pizzas. Local businesses often worked directly with the Boy Scouts to create fund raising options and we got to do things like spending a weekend in the mountains, or visit Gettysburg (where we learned how to smelt bullets!), and learned various real life skills. What I liked about the Boyscout sales was that it all went directly into activities we would actually do and we got to choose what kind of Fundraisers we would go through. That wasn’t true of all troops though. There was one where I was selling more than doing so I ended up quitting and joined a different troop that was more balanced.

    The Girl Scouts, on the other hand, only have the one fund raiser. The fact that they are owned and operated by a parent organization creates a conflict of interest. There is a great deal of pressure put on them without any options and most of that money seems to go directly to activities run at the national level, and that’s assuming the girls even get to go. If a little girl doesn’t sell hundreds of dollars worth of cookies she won’t get to do anything. I never saw girl scouts doing anything fun. I learned to fly an AIRPLANE in the Boy scouts. What do the Girls get to do? It seems very unequal when boys get to do so many exciting things, and girls get to… sell cookies by playing up the cute act. It’s like socially training them to use their bodies to sell products as good sales women or something.

    As an adult, seeing the girl scouts clustered around stores makes me feel very uncomfortable. I don’t want to support what they are forced to do so I personally boycott all Girl scout Cookie sales and make special effort to comment to someone I might be walking with about how horrible it is just in ear shot of parents while avoiding eye contact. Maybe if the girls got to choose cookie sales from a list of fundraisers and maybe if they actually got something out of it I wouldn’t see it as forced labor, but not the way it is right now. They spend all their time learning to be sales women and no time being kids.

    If I have a daughter someday she won’t be a girl scout, that’s for sure. Although if someone made a scouting organization that let kids be kids I would certainly be open to it.

  • C.Givens June 17, 2015, 7:53 am

    Christina, thank you for this blog post about GS cookies and their harmful ingredients. I will not buy GS cookies – not from my grand-nieces or the neighborhood GS selling door-to-door. I explain why when I turn them down in great detail. This is a learning experience for them on several levels. As a consumer I have choices.

    I agree that the Girl Scout cookie fundraising revenue model needs to be revamped. The immense pressure to attain GS cookie sales goals put on the GS councils in US and Overseas by the GSUSA National office in NYC is a huge issue!

    Check out this “Open Letter to Girl Scouts USA” blog by Jenny Lawson. Here’s a portion of the letter…

    Hi there. My name is Jenny Lawson and I’m having some issues I can’t seem to get answers to.

    My daughter is 10 and has loved Girl Scouts for years but there are a few issues we have concerning cookie sales and I’ve been unable to get a straight answer from anyone I’ve contacted. Two issues:

    1. I’ve read on the Girl Scouts website that the current pension deficit issue will cause most local councils to see a 40% increase in pension expenses starting the day girl scout cookies go on sale, and a 62% increase over the next three years. According to the girl scout.org site “For many Girl Scout councils, this means that the pension expense will suck up money that would normally go toward operating expenses such as staff salaries and benefits, camp maintenance, outreach programs for at-risk girls, scholarship support for low-income girls, and general programming.”

    I know you’re currently trying to get congress to grant legislation to help you but I haven’t heard of any progress on that, so I’m under the impression that as it stands, cookie sales that previously went to scholarships and camp maintenance will now be used to pay pension debt. I’m reading of many historic camps that are being closed or sold. It’s a concern for many reasons, but particularly because the girls in our troop were always able to say that cookie sales help at-risk girls and support community camps. We haven’t been able to get any verbiage to respond to people who will ask why girl scout camps are being sold and whether the councils will be able to support scholarships as they have in the past.

    2. The digital cookie sales that will allow girl scouts to sell online starting this year: From what I’ve read online, if my daughter sells a box of cookies to her nana online, her nana will be charged $4 for the cookies and $11.25 for shipping. So of the $15+ sale for one box of cookies my daughters troop will see about 60 cents. Is that right? Was that the most competitive shipping price available? Were there other bids?

    Also, I’ve heard there is a handling fee of $1.25 if you pay online but have the girl scout deliver the cookies to you. Why is that, when the girls offer free personal delivery when ordering in person? (I’ve also seen it called a “credit card fee” for girl scout delivery, but that number seems incredibly high if it’s a processing fee, and credit card surcharge fees are illegal in our state.) Does the girl scout troop get the delivery fee? Do people who buy boxes online but donate them to the official Girl Scout charity have to pay those fees as well?

    I hate to be nit-picky but it seems like an extremely questionable business model and my daughter has been taught by the Girl Scouts to ask questions when you think something is wrong, and to make good financial decisions, so that’s why we’re asking you for a real response so we can make a decision on whether her time is best spent selling cookies, or doing something with a greater return to her community.

    Hailey is currently working toward her Bronze Award, focusing on the Girl Scouts Journey which concentrates on stopping harmful gender stereotypes, and one of the inequities we’ve discussed ourselves is that, on average, women often accept and are paid less than their male counterparts. We looked at the breakdowns and agreed that this years cookie sales program undervalues her contribution, but we also thought it was important to voice our concerns, to work hard to make sure we understood the reasoning and facts, and to try to make this organization a stronger one by asking the hard questions. I hope that you’ll be able to answer us before cookies go on sale.

    As always, good luck.

    ~ Jenny Lawson

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