Girls Gone WildJuly 8th, 2011

We were so happy to hear on NPR that Girl Scouts are doing everything short of anything at all to get palm oil out of their cookies. Two members of the uniformed girls’ club have been lobbying the organization since 2007, when they found out that palm oil plantations are replacing orangutan habitat in Malaysia. Palm oil, a popular substitute for hydrogenated fat, is used in many prepared foods, including the cookies Girl Scouts sell every year to fund their activities.

Until 75 years ago, the girls and their mothers baked all the cookies for their annual drive. In 1936, the organization realized that the annual sale was a commercial opportunity and began contracting with a few big bakers to make all the cookies. Only a small portion of the money collected by the juvenile cookie-mongers goes to their local troops, but the Girl Scouts don’t tell their customers how the money is distributed or how much of it is going to grown-ups. The cookies cost about twice what you would pay for similar treats at the supermarket, even though they’re baked in the same ovens by the same commercial bakers.

Rhiannon and Madison, the two dissident scouts, collected over 60,000 signatures opposing the use of palm oil in cookies, but the Girl Scouts’ national cookie sale coordinator says nothing can be done this year. There is no affordable source of sustainable palm oil, she says, and the Girl Scouts’ contribution to the decimation of tropical rain forests will have to continue. “The boxes have been printed,” she adds.

NPR says the Girl Scouts don’t want to do anything to jeopardize cookie sales because they “need the money” for camp, trips and other activities. The organization has pledged to study the problem and maybe do something about it sometime, but they’re not making any promises, and this year’s cookie drive will cost the rain forest a few more orangutans.

The two girls, teenagers now, didn’t call on customers not to buy the cookies, but that’s what I’m doing. If integrity was among the values they learned in their scouting days, the Girl Scouts’ need-the-money excuse rings hollow with them, and they’ll be gratified by my decision.