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Girl Scouts Want You To Die

Monday, February 26, 2007

My local liquor store is selling Girl Scout cookies, and last week I chose Thin Mints over gin, thinking myself quite virtuous. Little did I know…

According to MeMe Roth, who is the head (and may be the sole member) of National Action Against Obesity:

Girl Scouts have an economic, medical and moral imperative to dump junk food as their $700 million fundraising source….Girl Scout Cookies are high-calorie, high-sugar, high in saturated fat and nearly devoid of nutrition. Using young girls as a front to push millions of cookies onto an already bloated population further exacerbates an alarming [obesity] crisis, no matter how cute the uniforms are.

Could it be true that little girls are selling sin door-to-door in exchange for merit badges?

Girl Scout CookiesThis strange little Girl-Scouts-cause-obesity trope has been making the rounds for a while now: The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof penned a column during last year's selling season in which he worried about the growing menace of "little girls intent on clogging your arteries and killing you with their sweetness." At least Kristof maintained a semi-satirical tone. He knew that he was proposing something on the silly side: "Actually, it's a pity that Girl Scout cookies are being sold by cherubs," he wrote. "If the sellers were Iranians with turbans and menacing frowns, then the authorities might be more alert to the dangers."

Even before Kristof, a television ad produced by the pro-business Center for Consumer Freedom put a Girl Scout on the stand to demonstrate the absurdity of obesity-related lawsuits. "You make them taste good on purpose, don't you?" a sinister trial lawyer asks a beribboned, beanie-wearing defendant.

But now Roth has done it for real—and with little discernable humor. "I’ve always cringed at young females identifying themselves with baked goods," she says. "And I’m not convinced more cookies makes the world a better place."

But of course, more cookies do make the world a better place—as anyone who has ever had a crunchy, coconut-y, chocolate-dipped Samoa can attest. People buy Girl Scout cookies because they are good cookies for a good cause. Most people buy (and eat) them in moderation, so a boycott isn't changing health outcomes for the vast majority of cookie customers. And as Roth rightly points out, the Girl Scouts rely on the cookies for $700 million in revenue every year, revenue that they are unlikely to be able to replace with other sources—even in the five-year transition time graciously allotted to them by Roth.

There isn't a single man, woman, or child in America who thinks that Thin Mints are slimming, name notwithstanding.

They shouldn’t try. More choices don't make people fat, bad choices make people fat. In the case of Girl Scout cookies, more choices could even make you thinner. The Girl Scouts experiment with new flavors every year, and have removed trans fats from this year's batch. The new flavors tend to be low fat or boast some other health conscious modification. A boycott (girlcott?) against all Girl Scout cookies by the most health-conscious segment of consumers is unlikely to encourage more experimentation.

This isn't Roth's first anti-fat publicity stunt. She also hosts the Wedding Gown Challenge, which encourages women to do annual checks to make sure that they still fit into their wedding gowns: "Most women I know commit fraud on their wedding days—they weigh-in for the walk down the aisle with no expectation of maintaining that weight year after year." (When I visited, Google Ads for eating disorder treatments graced the right column of her main page—but, for the record, she also discourages "extreme" pre-wedding dieting.)

Roth's message of personal responsibility, and her use of a boycott rather than a lawsuit or a legislative ban are to be applauded. But she is still on the wrong track. Scapegoating particular foods or companies (remember the lawsuit blaming McDonalds for obesity?) isn't a sensible approach. There isn't a single man, woman, or child in America who thinks that Thin Mints are slimming, name notwithstanding. Adorable salesgirls in knee socks are not tricking buyers or leading them down the garden path, most people just buy a box or two of nostalgic cookies once a year for kicks. They know what they're getting.

And what could be more American than Girl Scout cookies? The scouts have been selling cookies since 1917. Roth says that they "sell up to 200 million boxes yearly—that's about one box for every overweight American." But one box of cookies a year each, for a total of 1,350 calories, isn't too bad—certainly not enough to add an extra roll to anyone's midsection or roll anyone into an early grave.

Actually, there is one thing that's more American than Thin Mints and Trefoils: apple pie. Grandmothers across the nation, beware. Unless you fit into your wedding dress—MeMe Roth could be coming for your pie pans next.

Image credit: "Heaven in five boxes," by Flickr user antigone78

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