The Girl Scouts of the USA are working on a new merit badge: sustainability.
The Girl Scouts’ use of palm oil in the cookies they sell annually has become a topic of debate recently, with experts advising that the oil commonly used in these cookies and many other processed foods can be harmful to the environment because sourcing it causes deforestation. Every one of the sixteen varieties of Girl Scout cookies available contain palm oil, but official Girl Scout cookie bakeries ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers have made a commitment to sustainability, Amanda Hamaker, manager of national products, said.
According to Time Magazine, awareness around the use of palm oil in the iconic cookies came from none other than a couple of Girl Scouts. While researching Jane Goodall’s work with primates, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen discovered that the use of palm oil can contribute to harming the environment of the orangutan.
“Being a Girl Scout is about showing stewardship for the land. We knew we had to keep fighting,” Vorva told Time.
The active interest of these Scouts is the sustainable practice of sourcing palm oil. Little Brownie Bakers has joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which ensures that the growing and buying of palm oil will be done without harming the environment.
“In most of the countries (growers) would just go in there and cause deforestation, which created global warming. We’re still giving the customers the cookies they expect but we’re going to change the world without taking from it,” said Barbara Mitchell, director of product sales in Western Oklahoma.
The Girl Scouts of the USA will only buy from growers who have sourced the palm oil in a sustainable way, by selecting a section of the environment rather than gathering at random and causing detrimental harm, like deforestation, Mitchell said. Bakers are considering other options besides palm oil, such as blended oils or experimenting with alternative products.
Palm oils are used frequently in processed foods, which can be unhealthy. However, Girl Scout cookies are now promoting trans fat free and zero trans fat cookies in several of the cookie varieties. “We can’t get all of the trans fats out of things like chocolate and peanut butter, which have natural trans fats in them. But what people need to remember is that it is a cookie. It is not meant to be a meal,” Mitchell said.
Cookie buyers need to closely examine the Girl Scout cookie box labels. Because there are two bakery companies that manufacture the cookies, the nutritional values are slightly different depending on which company produced the box you bought.
The bakeries continue to look at consumer trends to evaluate which types of cookies should be sold. As of right now, healthier options, like gluten-free or vegan cookies, are not in the plans because these specialty varieties have higher costs than the traditional flavors, Hamaker said.