By Jamie Birdwell
The Girl Scouts of the USA are trying to earn their merit badge in sustainability.
The use of palm oil in their iconic cookies has become a hot topic for debate recently, with some experts indicating that the oil commonly used in processed foods can cause harm to the environment due to deforestation. All sixteen varieties of Girl Scout cookies 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 an article in Time Magazine, the awareness about the famous cookies containing palm oil came from none other than a couple of Girl Scouts themselves. While researching about Jane Goodall and her work with primates, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen learned 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 said to Time.
Since the girls’ active interest in the sustainable practice of buying 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 so without too much harm to 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,” Barbara Mitchell, director of product sales in Western Oklahoma, said.
The Girl Scouts of the USA will only buy from growers who have gathered the palm oil sustainably by selecting a section of the environment rather than gathering from plants at random and causing detrimental harm due to deforestation, Mitchell said. Bakers are also always looking at other options besides palm oil such as blended oils or experimenting with alternative products.
Palm oils are used frequently in processed foods, which can typically be unhealthy. However, Girl Scout cookies are now becoming famous for their trans fat free and zero trans fat cookies in several of the cookie varieties for those who may be counting calories. “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 also look carefully at the labels on the back of Girl Scout cookie boxes. Because there are two different bakery companies that Girl Scouts of the USA uses, nutritional values may be slightly different depending on the company and cookie.
The bakeries continue to look at consumer trends to evaluate which types of cookies should be sold. As of right now, health options such as vegan or gluten free cookies are not in the cards for production because speciality cookies typically run at higher costs than the traditional flavors, Hamaker said.