To hell with cookies


A guest rant from Sandra Knauf.

I was a real jerk last February 13th. Maybe it was
inevitable—after weeks doing financial aid paperwork for our daughter’s college
applications and our taxes, I’d had no time to even think about doing anything
fun, like gardening. But I was not planning to be mean when I saw the Girl
Scouts on the steps of our neighborhood library. In fact, I was cheery as I
chirped to my teen daughters Zora and Lily, “We should buy your dad a box of
Mint Thin Girl Scout cookies for Valentine’s Day!” 

Once I got to the table, though, suddenly the desire to
support this American ritual was colored by something else. These cookies were
bad for you and the temptation, the pressure, to buy them was everywhere. A
friend had just said something the week before—how families who sell these
cookies almost always over-indulge, both parents and children gaining empty
calories and reinforcing the sugar habit. These damn cookies, I thought, out
there for weeks, tempting all to buy, buy, BUY!

That’s when I made the first snarky remark. “Same price as
last year, but smaller boxes.”  Everyone politely ignored that rudeness,
but then, looking at the back of the box, I added, “Artificial ingredients,
hydrogenated oil. Yuk.”

Truly, I do not usually behave like this. I think there was
a full moon too. My daughters  cringed, the father of the girls glared
like he could kill me. I ignored them. And then I bought a box!

As we walked away, Lily said, “Mom, you were such an
asshole.” The evil spell lifted. OMG, I was! A huge one!  We got in the car. “Maybe I should go
apologize.” “Don’t you dare go back!” both daughters cried, fearing more

Although Lily pointed out the cookies also used palm oil
(palm oil!), my conscience ached for days. How could I diss the Girl Scouts? They
do good work! They set good examples! The amazing women who have been in Girl
Scouts include Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gloria Steinem, and Martha Stewart. Girls
are taught useful skills; self-esteem is bolstered. This group is respectful of
different religions and beliefs. They fully accept people with different sexual
orientations . . . what was wrong with me?!?

After thinking it over I realized the roots of my ill will went
deep. I’d been channeling all those kids—mine included—coming to our doors over
the years, selling things we didn’t need or want. Paraffin candles, candy,
cookies, stuffed animals made in China, discount cards for buying junk food at
fast food franchises. This is what we, in America, make our kids peddle. For
their schools.

But then I remembered a school fundraiser from my elementary
school days.  It was small town Missouri in the mid 1970s and I was going
door to door, at exactly this time of year selling . . .  seeds! I
remember it clearly, the long list of seeds to choose from: vegetables,
flowers, and herbs in beautiful packages with colorful art. And you know what?
When I came to the door many were even damn glad to see me! I remember little
old ladies (who probably weren’t much older than I am now) saying, “I’ve been
wondering when you’d be by. I want to get the garden going.”

Imagine—trading four dollar boxes of cookies made with palm
oil, hydrogenated oil, and artificial flavorings, for something that we can
USE. That’s healthy in every way. Imagine Girl Scouts selling organic non-GMO
seeds, unusual seeds, maybe seeds in partnerships with other Girl Scouts around
the world, seeds that can grow beautiful bouquets of flowers, vegetables to
eat. Seeds that can urge people to get off their couches, drop those cookies,
grab a shovel and create something fabulous! Fundraising that can be positive
for everyone and every living thing.

I can see it now, and it can happen! After all, these girls
can do anything—they’re Girl Scouts.


  1. Great idea! I have to grit my teeth and try to buy the least innocuous wrapping papers, and I feel like a grinch but I cannot bring myself to buy candy bars from the sports teams assigned to supermarket exits. I’ve told my grandchildren I’ll make a direct donation to whatever, but they complain that then they won’t get points for their class or school to win some treasure. Grrrrrr.

  2. The other day a few kids came to my door to sell cookie to help Haiti through their church. I didn’t really want any cookies so I just gave them a donation instead. I think the girl scouts would be just as happy to take a donation since their income would be much higher without having to sell a box of cookies.

    But if they came to my door selling seeds – let’s just say my wife and I might be discussing my gifts to charity that evening!

  3. That is an awesome idea. I don’t see it happening though.

    The annual Girl Scout Cookie Sale is a literal monster of an event. It has been organized on a national level with companies contracted to bake the cookies, media packets distributed through out the organization and volunteers recruited, trained and deployed! They have a pretty good idea how much money to expect each year from the sale and depend on it to fund the administration of the organization. This has been polished and refined year after year to become a smoothly working money making event. Do something different? I don’t think so.

    There might be the possibility of petitioning them to include a variety of cookies that are HFCS free made with healthy oils. They have introduced “low fat” and “sugar free” cookies to the line up before due to dieting trends. They won’t give up the classic Thin Mint and Shortbread cookies; they are the most popular and the money makers.

  4. I was on the Board of our local girl scout council. At one of the Board meetings we had to sample the new varieties from the company who made the cookies. Great fun. But I agree, it is not easy to change a machine like ‘Girl Scout Cookies’. It’s something everybody knows. But it has happened.
    One man got rid of cigarette ads on TV, all by himself. Everyone said he couldn’t do, because they had been on TV for so long, and part of the TV ad landscape.

    I love the idea of selling seeds, door to door. Reminds me of the seed companies in the 19th century. They were called seed pedlers.

  5. Unfortunately, the only way seeds could reasonably be sold D2D these days is if Scott’s or some other befuddled behemoth of a corporate entity backed it. Great idea, though. I’d buy.

    As for fundraising, I’ll offer kids cash if they’re selling crap and I want to support their cause.

  6. Ah, yes. Not having grown up in this country, I marvel at the peddling mentality. I always offer a donation when yet another neighborhood kid comes by with — whatever. Noone has ever refused.

    As for the seeds, they’d probably be a bunch of hugely invasive wildflowers, those packets seem to have become a popular “green” marketing tool.

    Or maybe they could collect the seeds? Now that would be an interesting project!

  7. I love the seeds idea! The point about invasive wildflowers, etc., is well taken, but seeds for edibles is a great idea. I’m sure these organizations, with all of the energy and innovation they foster, can come up with lots of creative options for fundraisers.

    My FFA Chapter ran a hugely successful and much anticipated citrus fruit sale every year. A bit of a pain in terms of delivery, but it worked great for us.

  8. Maybe a compromise is in order. Bake the seeds inside the cookies, compost your poop, use it in the garden. Voila! You can have your cookies and plant them too!

  9. Are we seriously demonizing COOKIES at this point? Our health problems have nothing to do with Girl Scout cookies (or hydrogenized oils or sugar or whatever) in themselves but in our inability to exercise self-control. No one’s making you buy them. If they’re that appalling, then step away.

    Cigarettes and cookies are now equated? What kind of crazy world do we live in, that no one practices moderation anymore?

    Next, we’re going to have a letter-writing campaign to outlaw ice cream trucks.

    One big difference between cookies and seeds is that people will buy cookies at a booth sale. Booth sales now account for almost all the sales to strangers, as Girl Scouts are now strongly discouraged from going door-to-door, anyway, and the number of seed packets bought in front of Wal-Mart is guaranteed to be a lot less than the cookies pretty much anywhere.

    College students buy cookies. Apartment-dwellers buy cookies. Cookies aren’t timed to the season. Cookies go great with the movie you just picked up from the rental place.

    Seeds are something to be considered and compared. Do I have room? Is this the type I want? Does it grow well here?

  10. Ice cream trucks are already outlawed in Des Moines, Iowa. Aftermath of a long-ago accident that resulted in the death of a child though, not overindulgence in ice cream. I don’t buy Girl Scout cookies because I don’t like the flavors. Now if they still had those great lemon thins that we sold in the 50’s….

  11. All true. Girl Scout Cookies are full of trans fats (hydrogenated oils), one of the most unhealthy things you can eat. Palm oil, commonly used in processed baked goods, contributes to the extinction of orangutans, who are losing their jungle habitat to palm oil plantations. And the sugar in Girl Scout cookies is certain to screw up your cholesterol and set you up for obesity, diabetes and coronary artery disease. They truly are evil, and the Girl Scouts need to join the 21st Century and think about selling something else. Maybe seed packets with Michelle Obama’s picuture on them?

  12. Halloween is right around the corner.
    What do you think about handing out seed packages instead of candy?
    Bet my house would get egged by the end of the night.
    People don’t always want what is supposedly good for them whether it is Girl Scout cookies , vegetable or flower seeds or Health care reform.

  13. @Henny Penny: not demonizing cookies, just the crappy ones.

    My homemade cookies are made without all the chemicals and junk… and I give them out for free. 😉

    One year, my MiL twisted my arm into selling my much-younger SiL’s GS cookies at work. I refused to do it ever again — what was she even learning?

    But I’ll buy seeds for sure.

  14. I hated peddling those cookies, hated every minute of it.

    On the other hand, we’ve had two fires in Colorado this week that may have been caused by people not putting out recreational fires properly, so I’ve also been crediting the Girl Scouts for teaching me how to properly insure that a campfire is well and truly out.

  15. I hated selling GS cookies. Hated, hated, hated. Taught me that I would not be good at sales, ever. Not sure it taught me anything else–except that I am very, very shy.

    That said, I overindulge these, too, and have generally given up buying them in recent years. However, it’s a little like Christmas/Thanksgiving/New Years/Choose-Your-Winter-Party-Weight-Gain-Ritual: here to stay. It brings us joy to have the rituals. We just need to learn some self-control.

  16. I sold GS cookies as a kid, and then was in charge of the entire county’s GS cookie sales for a few years as an adult. I finally kicked the GS habit.
    Did you know that for the $4.00 box of cookies, the troop typically sees only 20 cents? Yep. The girls really get nada. We used to laugh at the $600 pen and pencil set the girls could earn.
    I always throw a five dollar bill into the tip jar and tell them to keep it away from council. That five dollars represents the same profit to them as selling 25 boxes of cookies…

  17. >The other day a few kids came to my door to sell cookie to help Haiti through their church.

    * I love the seeds idea..! *

    However, we avoid anything peddled by religious organizations – as a family (of two dads and our two boys, 9 and 11), we’re subject to second class legal status because of religious prejudice, and we have little patience for fundraising efforts by anybody’s church…

    That money often backs political efforts to selectively erase our basic civil protections (and those of countless other hard working gay and lesbian families) – along with efforts to deny healthcare options for women, undermine science education in public schools, etc…

    …all because someone’s invisible, evidence-free, “supernatural superfriend” hates…lesbians. Or somebody. No thanks!

    There are some terrific non-religious organizations that help, in Haiti and elsewhere, where you can donate without contributing to any religious proselytizing and what far too often accompanies it: intolerance, ignorance, misogyny, scientific illiteracy, etc…

    That said, we’re suckers for almost anything peddled by our local PTA! (Though we TRY to skip the Sally Foster wrapping paper…)

    : )

  18. Cookies are the most important part of the Girl Scouts branding, and from what I’ve heard of moms lately, girl scouts are all about marketing and selling now and hardly about nature and learning. Hardly any of the badges are nature related anymore! I like your idea though… we should all make a new league of “scouts” and break the monopoly. Fight the man! I mean…

  19. This proves that GOOD WILL in a vacuum is like a pile of manure in the middle of nowhere, useless.

    Particularly in horticulture. Planting trees as if nature was only
    that is useless, after all, bushes, plants, vines, ground covers, are all part of biodiversity…

    Damn those cookies…

  20. Just ran across your post and as a fundraising guy I thought I would let you know that we add bulbs and seeds now to all our catalogs but we do still find that having a mixture of items works best for us. For instance, more people would complain that they don’t have a garden than people complain that cookies are unhealthy if you catch my drift. There’s no right or wrong here necessarily because fundraising is enticing a donation to a school or group and because everyone has different interests and needs, no one product is for everyone. I do certainly agree that flowers, bulbs and seeds are great and will be continuing to push for better offerings there every chance I get. Thanks for the opportunity to chime in.

  21. Wow, what a great idea! Those Girl Scouts would make a fortune off of me! I, too, found out about the hydrogenated oil in GS cookies this year. When a little girl scout came to my office with her dad, I, of course bought some. But I really wanted to tell the dad that I didn’t want to eat them. I even thought about asking if I could just make a donation instead. But I didn’t want to upset the “social order”. Maybe I should have…

  22. Just say no if you are feeling pressured to buy some yukky cookie if you don’t want it. Then go in to the store and pick out the good Lorna Doones and go buy the seeds that you really want…not the ones you are guilted into buying because that is the only selection you have. All of the fundraisers count on us feeling guilty if we don’t buy! I would rather give a donation to an organization that is doing a good job than buy some junk I don’t want or need.

  23. Last year I had this kid come to my doorstep and sell me an order of Spring bulbs. I was so happy that it wasn’t another friggin’ Boy Scout order for popcorn. Does anyone know the percentage of the proceeds that goes to the Boyscouts or Girlscouts when they sell cookies or popcorn? Does any of it go to charity? Covering production costs makes sense, but I’m always a bit skeptical.

  24. Lessee what cookies got our troop and council…

    -Supported a local day camp and a residence camp. The residence camp charges $150 per week TODAY because of getting funded by cookie sales. The day camp is $20 or less. Girls demonstrating financial need get additional scholarships.

    -Paid for everything my troop did, including a final, overnight trip to Sea World.

    -Made me eligible for an all-expenses Wider Op to go dog sledding in Minnesota, including airfare.

    Each box contributes very little. The total is staggering.

    I had to sell 90 cases to get the Wider Op and airfare credit. (Most years, I sold 30 cases. That made enough for the troop to cover two girls’ activities for the year.) It would have been much easier if cookies hadn’t just be dishonestly smeared in a national talk show. As you see from the above link, “$.20 of $4” just isn’t true. If you were in charge of council cookie sales, you should know better.

    I don’t buy a case every year, like I thought I would as a kid, but the price has risen quite a bit faster than inflation. But I do buy some.

    After 2 kids, I’m a size 4, my blood pressure’s so low I’m hardly alive, and my cholesterol is at the bottom end of the normal chart. So clearly the cookies are killing me.

  25. Speaking as a Girl Scout Leader and a Master Gardener in-training, I can see both sides of this argument; however, the Girl Scouts are about SOOOOO much more than cookies! Girl Scouts are about leadership development and self-esteem; community outreach; environmental awareness; financial literacy; health and wellness; science, technology, engineering, and math; the arts; and travel. Cookies are only one aspect of our fundraising. Anyone interested in current programming should check out the national website at This website contains links to all the program age level badge books, which highlight numerous badges related to nature and the environment.


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