Who doesn’t long for the days when you could eat a damned cookie without agonizing about its origin, its ingredient list, the condition of the workers who made it, and the plants and animals who gave their lives for it? “I just want to chew without so much guilt,” said one exhausted friend when I asked her if she worried about such things.
Even something as innocent and all-American as the Girl Scouts annual cookie drive now faces criticism from the usual health and food nanny suspects who accuse the Girl Scouts of contributing to America’s obesity crisis.
Victoria Maizes, a professor of public health and medicine at the University of Arizona told the International Business Times that she’s troubled by this unhealthy tradition, asking: “Why are we having them sell something that’s so unhealthy?” adding that she’s confused about the “inherent disconnect” between an organization that teaches girls that they should “make the world a better place” but then trots out unhealthy cookies as a fundraiser.
Yet, Maizes fails to grasp the point of a fundraiser. As the name implies, such initiatives are meant to make an organization money and usually the most effective strategy is to offer a product that people actually want to buy. People like cookies and want to buy them. Ergo they make an excellent vehicle for raising money. Carrots, celery, and other crudité typically don’t sell out at school bake sales so the Girl Scouts are sticking with the moneymaker for now.
Maizes also seems unaware that these cookies are available only once a year—which seems to convey a very healthy message about such treats, which is: Cookies are pleasures only to be enjoyed once in a while. Yet, to the puritanical health and food police, even moderation is too much.
And are these cookies really the gut busters that Maizes claims? Hardly. First, Girl Scout cookies are very small. That alone sends a message about portion size—cookies don’t need to be the size of a coffee table. And they’re actually very low calorie. You can enjoy four Thin Mints (which are also vegan) for a paltry 160 calories. You can have two Do Si Dos for 110 calories, five (FIVE!) Trefoils for 160 calories, five Savannah Smiles for 160 calories, and two Toffee Tastics (gluten free) for 140 calories. No rational person would suggest these calorie totals are alarming or to blame for America’s bloat.
And yet, these claims persist. And it points to a troubling trend in nutrition advice: that perfection, not moderation, is the goal. And that’s a very big problem, especially for young girls. This obsession with perfection even has a name now: Orthorexia. The Baltimore Sun examined this new eating disorder, explaining that “. . . while traditional eating disorder diagnoses tend to focus on the amount of food a person eats, orthorexia is unique in that it focuses on the quality of food consumed. What may begin as a sensible effort to eat healthy or avoid illness can spiral into an unhealthy obsession; a search for food that is ‘pure.’”
Is purity and perfection in nutrition really the lesson we should be teaching young girls? Is it really good to tell girls that even an occasional indulgence should be out of bounds?
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, by age 6 (which is the age most girls enroll in Girl Scouts), girls begin to feel anxiety about their bodies and roughly half begin to feel nervous about their weight or that they may become fat—a concern that stays with them for the rest of their lives. It seems to me that the Girl Scouts is fighting this trend in the correct way. They’re reminding girls that cookies are a normal part of life—enjoyed best using good judgment and moderation. And if you do eat a cookie, the Girl Scouts’ commitment to exercise and fresh air and exploration will surely burn it off.
I applaud the Girl Scouts and their cookie drive and their commitment to “building girls of courage, confidence, and character.” But mostly, I admire their avoidance of the sort of strict orthodoxy on food issues that’s become common among too many in the nutrition field.