This is my first year as a Girl Scouts leader and my second year as cookie mom. Each year, beginning in December, the Girl Scouts organization readies and rallies for cookie sale. The cookies pretty much sell themselves. We had a booth this year in our local mall and weren’t able to solicit sales, by that I mean we couldn’t ask someone if he/she wanted to buy (mall rule). We didn’t have to. Passersby caught a glimpse of those colorful little boxes and walked right over, money in hand.
While I had been whole-food, plant-strong during last year’s sale, my brain never made the jump that what I was doing directly conflicted with my beliefs. I knew I was pushing an unhealthy product, but I think I brushed it off and placed the accountability on the customers -- they can choose whether or not to buy. We’re not forcing anyone.
This year, it felt different to me -- maybe it was the new cookie, Mango Crème, marketed as nutritious by the organization (it was everything but) that pushed me over the edge, or maybe now I was a leader and felt a strong obligation to practice what I preached to my girls or maybe it was simply that my knowledge had deepened over the year. I knew now that sugar and processed food were addicting, making it difficult for those fully immersed in the Standard American Diet to walk passed something they know tastes good -- like a box of Thin Mints. Sugar is as addictive as alcohol. And I certainly wouldn’t bring a recovering alcoholic to a bar or ask him point black if he’d like a brew.
Organizations like the Girl Scouts are missing an opportunity to affect change in a long-term, meaningful way. If I can be frank, the organization is trading health for profit, much like the big players in the food industry. I simply can't be a part of it anymore.
Some may respond that anything in moderation is OK. Really? Would a moderate intake of alcohol be acceptable for an alcoholic? Did you know that a moderate intake of any unhealthful food could finally push the man with two stents into full blown open heart surgery or worse? If moderation were really practiced in this country, we wouldn’t be facing the biggest health crisis of our time. And if we’re honest, the Girl Scouts organization isn’t banking on moderation. Like any food product pusher, it’s aiming for "overindulgence."
Others may suggest that cookie selling is about building interpersonal and business skills in the girls. That may certainly be an outcome for some (though in my experience, maybe because of the young ages of my Brownies, the parents push the cookies not the girls), but with an approximate $700M in annual sales, I’m skeptical that’s really the driving force; to say nothing of the inflexibility of the organization on when you can sell, where you can sell, etc.
Adding to my skepticism is that this year the organization chose to take 15 percent of every troop’s initial order less than one month after the sale began. This caused immense stress on “volunteer” troop leaders to generate funds to cover the amount in such a short period of time. Some had to ask parents to “front” money. Does this sound like a fundraiser where the primary concern is building interpersonal and business skills in little girls? I think the fundraiser may have started off that way but when the dollars began flowing in it changed, and increasing sales year-over-year became the ultimate goal.
But let’s give the organization the benefit of the doubt. It’s all about building life skills. Could those same skills not be learned selling more healthful products? Or by hosting community health expos across the country where whole-food is sampled and messages about nutrition and alternatives to the Standard American Diet are prepared and communicated by the girls? Aren’t these stronger life skills to impart on our daughters than anything that could be gained from selling a case of Caramel Delights? Shouldn’t the organization’s primary goal be teaching the girls through words and deedsGandhi’s, "Be the change you want to see in the world," rather than asking these future leaders to help it profit on sickness and contribute to rising healthcare costs?
Someone “reminded” me that the Brownie Journey book has a chapter on health and nutrition and that as a leader I can teach the girls about both. She’s correct. But when I teach that and immediately turn around and put boxes of cookies to sell in those little girls’ hands, isn’t that the same as teaching them not to smoke while blowing smoke in their faces?
I have no doubt that the Girl Scouts organization will go on to see another banner cookie year. They’ll simply do so without my involvement or my daughter’s. I have and will continue to support the Girl Scouts monetarily and through volunteer hours.
I’m prepared for the negative responses my post may elicit. To those volunteers and parents who spend hours working to make each cookie sale a success, I stand not in judgment of you. I admire your dedication to your troops and to your daughters. Just as I have a right to disengage from the sale, you have a right to stay engaged. I simply want to share my point of view and state my truth.
For our 2013/2014 Brownie year, I'd like coordinate our own little health expo, where the girls will introduce our community to the benefits of a whole-food lifestyle. Having our younger voices learn about and speak to the long-term dangers and consequences of processed food is one of the greatest life lessons we could ever pass on to these beautiful minds.
To the Girl Scouts organization, I ask you to put health above profit. Your leadership in this area could inspire other companies to follow. I implore you to stand by your mission of “Building girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.” With that could come a tagline change, “Be a Smart Cookie, Raise a Health Nut.”