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The fight to remove palm oil from Girl Scout Cookies

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Girl Scout Cookies!

If I were to meet them in person, I would give Girl Scouts Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva each a big batch of my homemade Girl Scout cookies because they are trying to change the way that the Girl Scout organization bakes their iconic Girl Scout cookies. These two girls set to work on a project to raise awareness of endangered orangutans and how their habitats are being destroyed. They discovered that much of that land was being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in many different foods as a non-hydrogenated fat, but the one that stood out the most to these two girls is that palm oil was used to make Girl Scout cookies. It was a surprising realization and they decided to shift their campaign away from simply raising awareness and towards removing palm oil (or getting it from only sustainably grown sources) from Girl Scout cookies. Already, members of more than a few scout troops are saying that they no longer want to sell Girl Scout cookies.

Girl Scouts spokespeople say that there is no viable alternative to using palm oil in their cookies because they need them to be “sturdy” and have a long shelf life. Sustainably grown palm oil is simply too expensive and there isn’t enough of it to meet their demand. The bakeries began to make the switch to using palm oil from partially hydrogenated oils in 2006, after coming under fire for having trans fats in their baked goods.

In fairness to the Girl Scout cookie makers, making another change in the recipes of their cookies and switching to a different fat, such as butter or a fully hydrogenated, non-palm oil shortening blend, might be an expensive proposition. But at the end of the day this is an organization that is supposed to support girls and teach them “values such as honesty, fairness, courage, compassion, character, sisterhood, confidence, and citizenship.” It doesn’t mention saving money on cookie recipes. It seems like looking for ways to change the cookie recipes so that they can be something that Girl Scouts all across the country are proud to stand behind again seems like it would be right in line with the core values that the Girl Scouts organization says they stand for.

Another option for the girl scouts themselves is to try their hand at baking their own cookies and selling them to raise funds for their troops. It will be on a smaller scale, but there is a lot more to learn when you’re doing everything from scratch on your own. My homemade Girl Scout Cookie recipes are a great place to start (even if you’re not a Girl Scout yourself and just a fan of the cookies):

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  • TeacherStacy
    May 24, 2011

    “Another option for the girl scouts themselves is to try their hand at baking their own cookies and selling them to raise funds for their troops. ”

    Isn’t that how Girl Scout cookies got started? I would be all about supporting a grass roots effort to be responsible, local and sustainable. In fact, it’s been several years since I bought cookies because (like everything else…) the packaging size has stayed the same, but the amount in it has gone down while the price keeps increasing. AND my husband noticed a few years ago that eating a serving of tagalongs (his favorite) equals 25% of your daily fat intake! Yikes!

  • rose
    May 24, 2011

    thank you for tackling a moral accountability –
    is it a matter of higher stock dividends vs. the teaching of responsibility for a healthy product if you are a ‘teaching’ organization for growing youth??? and being non-profit…and tell me, who ever keeps their GS cookies for any ‘long shelf life?’ Freeze them if you must. I liked the texture of the old ones better anyhow.
    AND YOUR cookies are GREAT !!!

  • Jenny
    May 24, 2011

    Unfortunately baking your own isn’t something that the Girl Scouts would permit, at least not in our area. Troops aren’t permitted to do their own fundraising efforts unless they have participated in the official cookie drive. It’s a Catch-22 situation, since it makes it close to impossible for troops to be able to afford to opt out of cookie selling.

  • Michelle
    May 24, 2011

    Its a tough call- I would love to see Girl Scouts make this switch. Kudos to the girls who started this!


    I am the leader of a troop of underprivileged girls who worked their butts off selling cookies this year. Our troop makes a profit on every box we sell which goes a long way to helping pay for activities that they might not be able to afford otherwise. As for the council’s portion, they set aside money for financial aid that helps cover things like troop dues, books, and uniforms. Its been a huge help to us. Cookies are obviously Girl Scouts hugest fundraiser, and to lose a portion of that money would hurt girls all across the council.

    I’m not saying one side is better here than the other- they’re both very important issues. I do hope that Girl Scouts continues taking a look into alternatives and eventually comes up with something.

  • RV Goddess
    May 24, 2011

    The past few years, due to the awful ingredients in Girl Scout Cookies, I have taken to just donating the price of a few boxes to the girls selling the cookies in front of the supermarkets and letting them keep their cookies. A few years ago, they didn’t know what to do with the gesture/donation, but now it seems I am not the only one who doesn’t want the cookies and they just say THANKS. I was a Girl Scout (50 years ago!) and feel it is a great organization… but they need to change the ingredients in the cookies!

  • I saw this on the news last week and, being a Girl Scout alumna myself, was really interested in the issues behind the scouts’ efforts to raise awareness. Thanks so much for covering this!

    Regardless of the outcome, these two girls are definitely great examples of the values the GSA is striving to promote in its young women.

  • ThisIsMyFibro
    May 25, 2011

    I would be willing to just give my local Girl Scout Troop the money I WOULD HAVE spent on the cookies and not take any cookies. They wouldn’t have to make homemade cookies. They could carry the petition to remove palm oil and let people sign it instead of buying cookies. My friend is a troop leader and she said that the girls’ troop gets very little of the money from each box of cookies. Most of the money goes to the Big Wigs. If I give the same amount of money I would have spent on cookies they would get a lot more money.

  • Maggie Drake
    May 25, 2011

    Grocery stores carry both non-organic produce and organic. The consumer makes the choice. Many people are happy to choose healthy and sustainable products. Why not offer one or two made from sustainable palm oil for a higher price. That’s what the markets do, and if it’s popular enough, they can gradually switch the whole line over.

  • karen cahill
    July 16, 2012

    My daughter has been a girl scout for three years. She also has celiac disease . She is not able to eat any of the cookies because she is allergic to wheat. It sure would be nice to have a gluten free cookie available.

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