Sunday, March 21, 2010

In Defense of Girl Scout Cookies

Who knew these time-honored traditional Lent-busters were so controversial?

Honestly...I never thought twice about this. Who wouldn't want to support the Girl Scouts? Cookie sales are the organization's most lucrative and well-known fundraiser, and in a time when philanthropy and non-profit community organizations are floundering, it's more important than ever to support the causes we need the most.

Bea is in her first year of Girl Scouts. Like her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before her, she is learning the Law and Promise, earning badges and yes, selling cookies. Some things have changed since my Gram was a Depression-era Scout: the uniforms and levels have been changed to be more compatible with today's girls, camping and badges are secondary to leadership skill development (but are still an integral part of Scouting) and troops are no longer massive (my Junior troop once boasted 38 girls and one leader. Bea's troop is 11 girls and 3 leaders.)

Some things haven't changed, though. Scouts places an emphasis on honesty and self-reliance, the motto is still Be Prepared. The girls still salute with three fingers and end each meeting in a friendship circle, singing "Make New Friends." Some of my fondest memories involve my Brownie and Junior troops. I never went to Scout camp, but my First Aid badge came in handy the first summer at church camp, when I was called upon to hold a bandage in place while a friend ran to get a counselor after an unfortunate incident involving an Exact-o knife in the arts & crafts hut.

When Bea asked to become a Girl Scout, my heart leaped for joy. Not only would we have a fourth-generation Scout in our family, it meant an automatic hookup for the world's best treat: Girl Scout cookies! The Boy actually told me recently that when I was pregnant with Bea, the first thing he thought of when he saw the ultrasound and heard the tech's pronouncement of "a little girl" was Girl Scout Cookies.

My girl rolled 350 boxes this sale, and I did a turn as the Cookie Mom. Yes, we bought 22 boxes of cookies just for our family. The Boy and I put in separate orders. We don't share. He believes in immediate consumption, I believe in freezing them and making them last as long as possible. We have common ground (Tagalongs), and divergence (Thin Mints are my favorite, Samoas are entirely his province).

This was my first year as a Cookie Mom, and while the process has evolved from a large worksheet and manual EVERYTHING into Excel spreadsheets and an online tracking tool, it means that for the past 4 months or so, I have been running a business that yielded almost $5,000 in sales. Not bad for 11 first graders, eh?

The girls earned roughly %650 this year from cookie sales for their troop. With that money, our little first graders are going to plant flowers in the school garden, organize a clean-up for the fields and a neighborhood rec center, go to the children's museum, and have a day at the water park. They will also buy some of their Brownie supplies for next year and participate in an all-school bridging ceremony. And they chose those activities themselves. They came up with the ideas, they made the goals.

The Scouts have recently been criticized for selling cookies. I've heard it all: the national Movement takes most of the profits and leaves little for the troops, the girls are exploited, the cookies are horrible for you, they are falsely advertising "zero trans fat", and in a day and age where Jamie Oliver is crusading against the pitiful excuse for food we serve to our kids through the national school lunch program, we are putting our daughters on the street to pimp, of all things, sugary chocolate treats, laden with sodium, sugar and fat.

Let me address these concerns:

1. Cookies cost about $3.50 a box. Of this, about $0.55 goes directly to the troop that sells the cookies.

2. About $2.00 goes to support the work of the local Council. This may sound like bureaucracy, but the Council is what makes so many of the Scout programs available, and cookie money keeps our camps up, running, maintained and staffed. It pays for safety and leader training, and funds scholarships for girls who can't afford the annual membership fee of $12.

3. About $0.11 per box pays for the girls' sale incentives. Badges, cookie credits, stuffed animals, and other swag.

3. The bakers get about $0.84 per box to cover the cost of the cookies.

This info comes directly from my cookie manager guide book. You'll notice that no money goes to the national movement. They get their own grants from places like the United Way. They do high-end fundraising. Why? Because they sponsor research and develop leadership programs. The national movement maintains relationships with international scouting organizations, advises on policy positions, and upholds the legacy of Juliette Gordon Lowe, the founder of American Girl Scouting. They do great work, but the girls aren't pushing cookies to support them. Likewise, cookie sales are voluntary. Troops and girls decide whether or not to participate.

As for the other claims, well, I honestly can't say. "Zero trans fat" is a claim that can be made when there is less than a certain amount of trans fat per serving. It probably is a misnomer. I can't say, I didn't do the science in figuring out that claim. Likewise, I agree that it seems incongruous to have our kids pedaling treats when we're fighting an obesity epidemic. But here's my answer to that: let's use this opportunity not only to teach leadership, goal-setting and entrepreneurship, but also moderation. I see no problem with showing the girls what a serving of Samoas is (three cookies, if you must know), and saying hey - eat healthy, and treat yourself in moderation. A few cookies here and there, well balanced with healthy whole foods (and hopefully a glass of fat-free milk or ice water) can be a great treat. Perhaps that's the model they should learn, not "eat a whole box in one sitting." (Admit it. You've done it. We all have.)

Look, I'm as guilty as the next American when it comes to overindulging. It's a battle I have fought my entire life. I'm working on it. I want to learn to garden, and I want to reduce my family's dependence not only on processed food, but on corporate groceries overall. I want to source local fresh foods, grow some of our own, and really examine what goes on our plates and where it comes from. I also want to look at how far our food has to travel. Why are we getting grapes from Chile in December? Why are my strawberries coming from California, when I know they are in season in Minnesota?

I'm also realistic enough to know that a big sea change within my family still leaves parts of the shore intact: we will inevitably have occasion to grab fast food; we will certainly have temptations to overcome. But part of being healthy is balancing those things out. Nobody's perfect, not even Jamie Oliver.

But we can all sure as hell do our best.

The Girl Scout Law
I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do;
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place,
and be a sister to every Girl Scout.


Mara said...

I agree. Selling cookies gives these girls a lot of wonderful skills they will not learn elsewhere.

People need to get over themselves and slide off their high horses. Sheesh.

Jen and Ed said...

Another thing cookie sales teach...socialization, In an age where kids RARELY get out, cookie sales are a great way for girls to develop their face to face communication with adults.

FANTABULOUS job on the 350 cookies. Maeve's personal best was 109.

Constantly Overworked said...

You go girl, peddle those cookies and hold your head high. Your daughter is learning a wealth of lifetime lessons from those glorious Girl Scouts and their fearless leaders.

Seo Portsmouth said...

God bless the kids.

Thanks for such a nice story.

Mirella Stubbs.

Genuinely Content said...

I was in Girl Scouts before we moved way back in the day. Keep selling and my husband will keep eating! He LOOOOOOOOVES those cookies!