Settled in to these resolutions yet? Then it must be time for Girl Scout Cookies to go on sale. I used to think there was something spectacularly special about them. Our dietitian, Mary Hartley, RD, reminds that they may be a sentimental favorite, but they are not healthy food. In fact, there’s nothing remarkable about these cookies.
Never once in my years in the Scouts do I recall having a conversation about fruits and vegetables, exercise, or nutrition. I do remember ending each meeting (spent entirely sitting down) devouring packaged chocolate chip cookies and Kool-Aid. I remember my troop leaders pushing us to sell, not teaching us the ingredients in the cookies or why the nutrition mattered. I might be guessing here, but I don’t expect that’s changed much today.
To be more specific, let me tell you exactly why any of us shouldn’t be buying these cookies.
1. GMOs. Most brands try to cover it up, but the Girl Scouts own their use of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. You’d almost think they were proud of putting engineered food in products they’re making our children sell by the language on their site, GirlScouts.org. They slide the responsibility on to their bakers, saying it’s their call what they use. Some of the reasons to avoid GMOs, since the US doesn’t require labeling while 61 countries do, include a link to allergens and altered DNA of the food.
2. Consistency. Two bakeries produce Girl Scout Cookies – ABC and Little Brownie. They have different recipes, ingredients and nutrition facts for each cookie. That makes for a whopping 20 calorie difference between a Samoa from Little Brownie and a Caramel Delight at ABC.
3. Palm Oil. In order to get the palm oil used in most of their cookies, major deforestation occurs, destroying the natural environment of orangutans. It’s a sustainability issue they came under fire for in 2011 and vowed to make changes. This year’s boxes have a “Green Palm Sustainability” logo, indicating their partnership in the certified production of palm oil. If it’s that tricky, why not source a new ingredient?
4. Mystery Descriptions. The Caramel Delights are a vanilla cookie with caramel, toasted coconut, and chocolaty stripes. The ingredients list never mentions vanilla nor caramel. Mango Cremes are a vanilla and coconut cookie with mango-flavored creme; vanilla nor mango are in the ingredients list. The Lemonades don’t make a single mention of anything lemon in the ingredients.
5. High Fructose Corn Syrup. The majority use corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup. Depending on which bakery your cookies come from, others may or may not have this toxic ingredient. For instance, the Peanut Butter Sandwich from ABC does, while the Do-Si-Do (same cookie, different name) from Little Brownie does not.
6. Trans Fats. The majority of these cookies do have trans fats, which is found in the partially hydrogenated palm oil listed at the top of the ingredient labels. According to Hartley, partially hydrogenated is synonymous with trans fat, a saturated fat that has a negative impact on cardiovascular health.
7. Business Education. The Girl Scouts adamantly stand by the “business experience” these girls garner from cookie sales, which include goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. I know that in the past 10-12 years as an adult buyer of Girl Scout Cookies I’ve never once been asked by a Scout to buy – their moms and dads make excellent salespeople though. At the grocery store, I usually see the kids lackadaisically holding signs while their parents do the hustling.
These cookie sales do a huge disservice to our girls. I feel the same about Boy Scout popcorn and the catalog of crap food the schools force our kids to sell every fall.. I won’t buy it, and my daughter won’t sell it.
The fact of the matter is we’re amongst an outraged minority who care about the childhood obesity epidemic, affecting one-third of American children with consequences varying from type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea to psychological effects like bullying and body image. According to CharitySub.org, 50 percent of advertising and marketing messages directed at children promote food and beverage. And with these sales, even their extracurriculars do. To those who say it’s just a cookie or it’s just once a year, it’s really so much more.
I believe in the soul of the Girl Scouts and the good that that organization can do. Teach them entrepreneurship, leadership, money management by running a farmers market booth or selling CSA memberships. Teach goal setting by being more active with their families and planning healthier meals at home. People skills come by volunteering at community organizations and events for at-risk youth, pet shelters, food banks, or their own schools. The opportunities exist to teach these skills in a way that is more impactful, and it doesn’t have to be via junk food.