Well, it seems that the Girl Scouts find themselves in one of those "teachable moments" that educators talk about. And everybody -- from the organization itself to environmentalists to nutritionists to local governments -- has a lesson plan.
Derek Thomson spilled the beans on a new sales strategy on The Atlantic site recently. It seems the scouts realized they have overextended (too many "no thanks" to Thank U Berry Much and other lines) and are cutting back to their half dozen bestsellers: Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils, Do-Si-Dos, or Lemon Chalet Cremes.
Thompson got his hands on a PowerPoint that spells out the new sales plan. It begins by reminding us that the product is a "once a year treat that should be enjoyed in moderation" -- a great line for budding salespeople to appropriate everywhere. It also suggests that www.girlscouts.org is the best way to find cookies "as long as you know your zip code" and suggests that an excellent way to "help a girl reach her goals" would be to buy a "CASE" of cookies. So much for moderation.
As far as life lessons go, they've always been part of the cookie-selling experience. But now there's a lot more about achieving bottom-line results with less product. "We teach the girls about supply chain issues and the need for efficiencies," according to vp of communications Denise Pesich.
The scouts also are learning a lesson in how wonderfully wacky government can be down in Savannah, Ga., where they've been banned from peddling their wares at Bull Street and Oglethorpe Avenue. That happens to be right outside the home of founder Juliette Gordon Low. Despite all sorts of anguished quotes from politicians and bureaucrats, there doesn't seem to be a way to get around a local law that prohibits sidewalk selling.
Jan McKinney, who heads product sales for the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, brings a measure of equanimity to the situation. "We try to teach [the girls] that in business you have to adjust to things that happen, adapt to the market and follow the law," she told a reporter. "It's a real-world experience."
Okay, no crying over spilt milk and that's the way the cookie crumbles. But how's this for a headline that's sure to upset young women everywhere: "Are Girl Scout cookies killing orangutans?" It ran in Grist recently and retells the tale of two Michigan scouts -- Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva -- who discovered that palm oil is an ingredient in several cookie recipes.
Glenn Hurowitz writes that palm oil is the "No. 1 culprit behind deforestation in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia" and suggests that Girl Scout cookies have had a hand in "destroying the forest homes of endangered wildlife like orangutans, pygmy elephants, and Sumatran tigers." Not to mention "displacing indigenous people."
The girls began a campaign back in 2006 "to encourage the Girl Scouts to switch to more environmentally friendly (and healthier) alternatives like canola oil," Hurowitz reports.
Whoa! Hold the phone! Did somebody say canola oil? Well, you can be sure that engendered some earnest debate online about the nutritional merits of this man-made concoction.
Then, Christina Le Beau pointed out in her (well-written and reported) Spoonfed blog, there are also refined sugars and oils, GMOS, chemicals such as artificial coloring and "pesticide-laden" cottenseed oil in the cookies. Not to mention high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats and artificial coloring, as the Mama Says blog does.
I'm going to make a confession here. I spied a "Limited Edition" container of Edy's Slow Churned Girl Scouts Thin Mint Cookie ice cream on a you've-been-working-out-hard-go-ahead-and-splurge-a-bit-trip to the A&P last weekend. There was only one left and I grabbed it. Ate about a quarter of the carton when I got home before squirreling it away in the back of the freezer where it would be difficult for anyone else to find.
But the truth is, like the snowfalls of our youth, something's not the same with the taste. I've noticed this in the cookies themselves, too, in recent years. I don't know what bad-for-me ingredients were taken out but I think I may as well sticking to organic multigrain flatbread.
And I think I'll duck if I see some Girl Scouts coming up the walk, too, and maybe just toss them a few dollars at their table at the supermarket. Buying a box of cookies isn't just a battle between one's rational mind and the forces of internal compulsions anymore. It's fraught with political, economic, environmental and nutritional issues. But in the meantime, I think I've good a few scoops left in that container hidden beneath the Boca burgers.