Perhaps the activity most associated with Girl Scouts in American life, and indeed critically important to the scouts themselves both as a character-building activity and as a generator of funds to support scouting activities, is the sale of “Girl Scout Cookies.” Girl Scouts have been selling cookies in their local communities since 1922.
Girl Scouts of the USA, the national organization, sets the standards for the manufacture of the cookies (“the cookies are produced by American labor union members from American-grown agricultural products and wrapped in American-made packaging materials”) and facilitates the program for the 300 or so local and regional Girl Scout councils. Each licensed baker makes a maximum of eight varieties of cookies; three—Thin Mint, Peanut Butter Sandwich, and Shortbread—are mandatory. The brightly illustrated boxes show photos of Girl Scouts engaged in positive activities.
The councils themselves order the cookies from approved manufacturers, set the price for the cookies, and make them available to local Girl Scout troops. Individual scouts talk to family and friends and schoolmates to take orders for the cookies for later delivery. Occasionally scouts (and their parents) may arrange sales tables outside supermarkets, in shopping centers, or at community organizations. Local councils may award prizes to motivate individual Girl Scouts and troops to sell cookies. Proceeds from cookie sales are divided among the troop, the council, and the national organization.
In conjunction with its leadership activities the Girl Scouts organization conducts a wide range of research projects that deal with issues of concern to girls today: obesity, eating disorders, self-image, sexuality and dating, health and physical activity, and major social issues. Some Girl Scout councils have begun cooperative and educational relations with the Planned Parenthood organization, while others object to this level of involvement. Disputes on this major social issue have led, on occasion, to organized boycotts by some councils of Girl Scout Cookie drives led by other councils.
Girl Scout Cookies also generate criticism based on health concerns, particularly as to their trans-fat content. Beginning in 2010, all varieties of the cookies will have less than half a gram of trans-fat per serving, tantamount to “zero trans fat” under FDA guidelines. Licensed bakers are still permitted to use tropical oils for cookies with compound coatings.