Cookie Fever

So far, in my ongoing attempt to follow and observe the National Day Calendar, I have concluded that March is a strange and cruel month. Directly following Awkward Moments Day (March 18) is National Let’s Laugh Day (March 19). Everything You Do is Right Day comes after we must suffer through Everything You Do Is Wrong Day (March 15 and 16). There is the bad-luck-taunting Open Your Umbrella Indoors Day (March 13), and the dismissive Get Over It Day (March 9). Food holidays are not much better. Cheese Doodle Day (March 5), Taters Day (not potatoes, but “taters” — March 31), Cold Cuts Day (March 3) and Chip ’n’ Dip Day (March 23). This is not the month to focus on healthy eating. At least Corned Beef and Cabbage Day coincides with Saint Patrick’s Day.

The one day I did get excited about, though, is March 12, Girl Scout Day. I assume it is timed to coincide with the annual cookie sales. I had never heard of it but will gladly celebrate. It is not the birthday of our founder, Juliette Gordon Lowe (which every good scout knows is on Halloween), but rather the day in 1912 of the first organized troop meeting, of 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia.

I have a long and nostalgic history with the Girl Scouts. I followed the example of my mother, who cherished her memories as a scout. As was the case with her, all my closest friends were scouts with me. My leader was my friend Kathy’s mom, and it was through her that I learned to love camping. She taught us to light a fire with a spindle and bow, identify poison oak and make tea out of manzanita bark and a salad out of dandelion greens. Sure, we had s’mores; but more important, we learned to make doughboys — ready-to-bake biscuit dough on a stick, browned over the fire, then rolled in melted butter and cinnamon sugar. We went backpacking and horseback riding, learned archery and kayaking and discovered that sliding down a dirt hillside is easier on your jeans if you ride on cardboard.   

We were a diverse group — African-American, Jewish, Asian, Arab, Latina  — and from elementary school to junior high we were thick as thieves. If not for scouts I would probably never have gotten to know them. And although by high school our interests had changed (hello, boys!), we all remained friendly. I’m still in touch with some of them, and we all share great memories of that time. So you bet I signed up my girls when they were little, and I jumped at the chance to be a leader. But it wasn’t the same for them. I tried getting them jazzed about the outdoors, but the camping trips we took were never as miraculous as the ones I remembered from my childhood. It was always too hot, or too cold, or too dirty, or too windy. The thrill of fireside skits, lanyards and tie-dyed T-shirts wore off for them fast. I like to blame the age of the Internet, but in reality I just wasn’t as good at selling these activities as my leader had been. 

The one thing they did love, though, was selling cookies. Cookie time was their favorite time of year. They loved setting up tables in front of stores. If we were lucky, we would get the coveted Friday and Saturday night Blockbuster Video spot, which was the most profitable cookie-sales spot in town. Rain or shine, my troop was great at pressure sales. They made up cookie songs and cheers to entertain the shoppers and danced in cookie costumes, like a giant Thin Mint mascot. (This was a favorite costume, which they would fight over routinely.) I believe they gained some skills over the years, like rising above rude people, avoiding creepy ones and working together as a team to meet financial goals. 

And they definitely had financial goals, though it was not to secure funds for our troop activities. They were all about the “incentive prizes.” Good sales could get you dolls, T-shirts, key chains, beach towels, backpacks (I still have many of these items floating around my house) and the coveted trip to Disneyland, which required selling at least 500 boxes (yeah, we did that). Some of the girls in my troop were ambitious, but mostly they were good at talking their parents into selling at the office. My husband was hands-down the best seller in my troop. 

The cookie sales began in 1917 as a way to finance troop activities, and it continues to be thus. In 1922 American Girl magazine published a simple sugar-cookie recipe for Girl Scouts to bake at home and sell to neighbors. By the 1930s demand was high, and the girls had trouble keeping up with the demand, resulting in the first commercially baked cookies in 1934. Due to food rationing during World War I, the girls raised money by selling calendars. When my mother was a scout in the 1950s there were three flavors (shortbread, chocolate mint and peanut butter), and boxes sold for a quarter. When my girls were selling in the 2000s, there were nine flavors that sold for $4 a box (customers were outraged). Today there are 12 varieties (availability depends on where you live), including gluten-free and non-GMO varieties, and they sell for $5 to $6. If you don’t have any girls in your area, you can get them online now through the official Girl Scout website (or on Amazon, for a substantial markup).

Scouting is not perfect, nor is the cookie sale. And while I have many problems with it (too much packaging, too much focus on prizes, more money spent on the sale than on the girls), I still think the program upholds Juliette Gordon Lowe’s vision — empowering little girls. She started the program before the 19th Amendment — before girls could feasibly wear pants. Sure, girls today are less likely to go camping. Then again, they are more likely to go to robotics camp, and I think Juliette would be fine with that. ||||