Come on, Girl Scouts! We can do better than mass-produced cookies.

The Girl Scouts (a.k.a. Girl Guides in Canada) sell their cookies door-to-door in my neighbourhood every spring. There comes a knock at the door and a nervous pre-teen asks if I want to buy a box of cookies. I always say yes because I like to support kids’ fundraisers. I hand over $5 and get a box of chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies in return.

Usually the box gets shuffled to the back of the pantry for a few months, since my family prefers homemade cookies, but this year I studied the box with great interest, having just read a thought-provoking article called “5 Things the Girl Scouts Can Do to Step Up Their Food Game.” Posted on Civil Eats, the article challenges the Girl Scouts’ use of cookies to fundraise.

The troops receive a measly 20 percent from the sale of cookies, which means that most of the donations made by well-meaning community members goes to Kellogg’s, Weston, and Dare, the only bakeries registered to mass-produce Girl Scout cookies in the U.S. and Canada. According to Dare’s website, the cookies “may contain some genetically-modified ingredients." They also contain preservatives to keep them fresh for eight months (!), as well as controversial palm oil. Two Scouts did convince Kellogg’s to source sustainable palm oil a few years back, but there was no sign of that on the box I bought made by Dare.

The article’s author Cathy Erway calls on the Girl Scouts to rethink their fundraising approach. She makes some great suggestions that I think reflect TreeHugger’s values of staying connected to our food by sourcing it locally, preparing it ourselves, and making it healthier.

“Do we really want more junior door-to-door salespeople who see food as a numbers game? Or can we find a way to build a generation who truly understand that everything they eat is a valuable product of a complex world?”

Imagine if local troops actually made their own cookies from scratch. It could be a great opportunity for young people to become acquainted with cooking and baking – skills that are desperately needed in order for the North American diet to improve. This is not a throwback to former times, when women were expected to be in the kitchen, but rather teaches a necessary skill that is rapidly being lost.

Cookie sales might even increase dramatically if they were fresh and homemade. I know I’d buy a lot more, since I tend to avoid mass-produced, additive-laden, industrial baking products. It’s possible to find facilities within most communities that are certified nut-free for customers with food allergies.

Erway wonders why the Girl Scouts even sell cookies to begin with. Nobody needs more sugar in their diet. Obesity rates have beens steadily increasing in the U.S. since 1999. What about going door-to-door with locally grown, freshly picked fruits and vegetables? Pints of strawberries and raspberries? Bushels of apples? Produce grown in a Girl Scout-run community garden? Yes, please!

If we truly want to resolve the dietary crisis that wracks North America, then we have to make some drastic changes on all levels, from school cafeterias and supermarket checkout aisles to public vending machines and snacks served during extracurricular activities. Parents, educators, and leaders need to take a stand against the sugar invasion and insist on healthier, preferably homemade alternatives.

Tags: Education | Health | Kids

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