When I was young, I was a Girl Scout for a year; I dropped out of the program then for the same reason that I take issue with the group today: those infernal cookies. As a kid, I had no interest in selling anything, but really wanted to hike and camp, and thought the Girl Scouts would have been a great way to get to learn how to build a fire safely and become expert in tent construction. (In my town, I would have had better luck joining the Boy Scouts, who were frequently out in the woods, learning stuff.) But all the Girl Scout troop in my town seemed to do was sit around learning crafts and selling cookies. I left after becoming totally bored with those activities and learned about backpacking on my own. 


Fast-forward to today, and I realize that my hometown Girl Scout troop was just catering to what the local troop leader was interested in, and that the organization is probably one of the best advocates for young women in the country. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this week, the group has been a leader in many of the areas that Americans are proud to be known for.


The Girl Scouts made room for disabled girls in 1936 (recognizing way before various disabilities acts that those with physical and mental challenges would still want to be part of a group and shouldn't be turned away). There were groups for African-American, Native American and Mexican-American girls before and during the 1920s and soon afterwards, the group desegregated, earning kudos from Martin Luther King Jr. at the start of the civil rights movement.


Today, Girl Scout leaders reach out to all kinds of girls, according to Jezebel, "... including girls whose mothers have been incarcerated and girls who are currently adjudicated, are wards of the court, or are court-referred delinquents." Transgender girl scouts are welcomed, and no scout has to believe in god to be part of the group (very much unlike the exclusionary Boy Scouts, who are an embarrassment to America in their politicizing of children's beliefs). 


Former Girl Scouts include Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, Secretary of Sate Hillary Rodham Clinton, former first lady Nancy Reagan, former Secretary of State (and the first woman to hold that position) Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, actress and comedienne Lucille Ball, retired Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, author and activist Gloria Steinem, and singer and actress Dionne Warwick, according to Jezebel's article on the group. 


To say the Girl Scouts organization has been a powerful tool in encouraging girl's — and women's — independence and leadership, as well as being an advocate for girls who are ignored or sidelined by the rest of society is obvious. It is a great organization that will continue to support young women into the future. And I support them in every way except one: the cookies. 


Some of those cookies contain high fructose corn syrup, and some of them contain partially hydrogenated oils (including the perennial fave, Thin Mints). Most contain genetically modified soy, and some contain GMO corn, while others contain artificial colors (some of which have been linked to cancer in lab animals). See a good breakdown here. They are all made with highly processed, low-quality ingredients — those very same ingredients that health advocates are trying to get Americans to eat less of, and especially trying to get kids to eat less of. And yet the Girl Scouts use their good name, and wonderful history, to push what is nothing more than mere junk "food" on the American populace.


In true Girl Scout form, they have addressed each of these issues on the group's website. "Because Girl Scout cookies are produced just once a year and for a limited time, our bakers never achieve the volume required to support the specific production of specialty cookies. The demand has not been great enough to make it economically feasible, however our bakers continue to experiment and have a commitment to ensuring there is always a 'healthful' cookie in their line-up." I find this excuse to be particularly lame for an organization that promotes health and wellness for young girls as a primary goal. They can't offer just one whole-ingredient, low-sugar offering? Really? I'd be willing to pay more for it, and I bet I'm not the only one. 


So while I will continue to support the Girl Scouts as a group, I will have to agree to disagree with the Girl Scouts about their cookies, which I believe undermine their own anti-obesity and health programs. I won't be buying the cookies this year (haven't in more than a decade), and I encourage others not to either. You can always donate to the organization directly, as they depend on the money raised from cookie sales, and skip the processed junk. Maybe they'll get the message that selling unhealthy food is a dirty business to be involved in, and one that's not worthy of the Girl Scout name. 


MNN homepage tease photo: juverna/Flickr


Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

I love the Girl Scouts, but not their cookies
As the Girl Scouts celebrate 100 years, I support them in all ways — save one.