Death and Cookies

It's Lent. Or as I like to call it: Girl Scout cookie season. And so yesterday, as I stood in line and inched my way toward the ashes-bearing priest, I tried to focus on my mortality but couldn't get Thin Mints out of my mind. If I gave up desserts for Lent, this would mean letting Thin Mints pass me by (don't even suggest I put them in the freezer; they taste best frozen). How could any normal human being be expected to do that? And yet, as I weighed my options, no other Lenten resolution rose to the level of "sacrifice" the way giving up Thin Mints cookies would. God would be so pleased. Father Paul, annoyingly oblivious to my conundrum, swiped his blackened thumb on my forehead: "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."

And this got me thinking. Guess the whole "ashes-to-ashes" thing pretty much ruled out Girl Scout Thin Mints cookies--or any other desserts--in heaven, right? I wanted to go back to the altar, tug on Father Paul's sleeve and say: "Excuse me. Quick question. How can it be 'heaven' and yet not have desserts?"

And if there are no desserts in heaven, then how can Dad be happy there? I can picture him arriving and asking lots of questions about heaven's policies and such, kind of trying to get settled in. "What time's dessert? Got any apple pie? Vanilla ice cream? No? What the…? What do you mean, there are no desserts in heaven. Oh, for crying out loud. What kind of place is this? You must be kidding." How does that Eric Clapton song go, the one about no more tears in heaven? Guess again.

So there I was yesterday after church, running errands all over town, black smudge on my forehead, trying to avoid Girl Scout cookies. If Dad couldn't have them, I wouldn't either. It would be my way of showing solidarity, at least during Lent. I could do this. Besides, kikaPaprika-Jennifer had asked me to email my measurements so she could determine which size would work best for the items I wanted to order. Measurements? Yikes. I’ll get back to you about 10 pounds from now, Jen.

Girl Scouts in green uniforms seemed to be everywhere. Outside Starbuck's. Outside Peet's Coffee & Tea. Outside the grocery store. And each time I saw those Scouts, smiling, holding out boxes of Thin Mints (their top seller), my Lenten resolve weakened. The fine art of negotiation with my conscience ensued. Surely, I told myself, there was nothing more American than Girl Scout cookies. And surely, I went on, as the driver of this Buy-USA blog I was duty-bound to lead, to set an example for others, to purchase this all American product.

Then this thought occurred to me: Girl Scout Cookies are Made in the USA, aren't they? I decided to do some research before purchasing. (Dad, yelling at me from heaven: Oh no. Don't go do that, Teen!)

I checked on the Girl Scout website, scrolled through the FAQs.

Q: Who bakes Girl Scout Cookies?

A: Currently, two commercial bakers are licensed by the national Girl Scout organization, Girl Scouts of the USA, to produce Girl Scout Cookies: ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers.

Good enough. Quick hop over to Wikipedia confirms that Little Brownie Bakers is a subsidiary of Keebler, which is owned by Kellogg's of Battle Creek, Michigan. So far so good. But what about the other commercial bakery? Well, it turns out that ABC Bakers is a subsidiary of Interbake Foods, which is owned by George Weston Limited, which is (drum roll) a Canadian company. Don't kill me. I'm just the messenger.

Here's what the ABC Bakers website says about their Girl Scouts cookie business: "We now produce over 40% of the Girl Scout cookies manufactured in the United States--or about 84 million boxes of these delicious cookies each year…ABC Bakers is part of Interbake Foods, LLC, a Richmond, Virginia based manufacturer that has been baking cookies and crackers for 100 years." If you read that quickly, it sounds as though it's all part of the USA circle of life. But if you're persistent, you'll discover confirmation that ABC Bakers is foreign-owned. Just click on the Company History link and follow the storyline. "In 1946, George Weston Limited acquired the assets of a number of United States bakeries."

According to the Girl Scouts' website, troops receive "an estimated 10 – 20% of the purchase price of each box of cookies sold." Each box sells for $4, so the troops make 40 to 80 cents per box. ABC Bakers says "less than a third of the price" of each box of cookies goes to them, the bakers. So let's just say, to be conservative, ABC Bakers receives $1 per box. That's still about $84 million in gross earnings, part of which ends up in Canada. And since Canada's had ownership since 1946, that's a whole lot of U.S. dollars in their cookie jar. Go, Canada.

But here's the good news. There's a 60% chance your local Girl Scouts buy from all American-owned Little Brownie Bakers. Just check online and see. Or go to your local Girl Scout stand and take a peek at a box. I checked online and discovered that all the cookies in my area are made by Little Brownie Bakers. This is good news for them, and bad news for my Lenten resolution (and kikaPaprika-Jennifer).

Still, there's something else nagging at me here. The Girl Scouts' website states: "Selling cookies has become a successful way to help girls develop important leadership skills and earn money for activities." Ok, girls, lead away. Think outside the Thin Mint cookie box. How much does each box net your troop? Are you earning money for the troop or for the bakery? If it's the bakery, are you sure the one your troop uses is 100% all American? Be aware. Make choices. Be smart cookies.

All that said, I hope the girls wearing green sashes never stop selling Thin Mints or any of their other cookies. Lent wouldn't be the same without them. And it does pump money into our economy. I wouldn't want either of the bakeries to go out of business. Too many people depend on them for jobs. I just wish an American company would buy ABC Bakers. Now that would demonstrate exemplary leadership and business skills for all those Girl Scouts. And each box of cookies could be stamped with an American flag. Why not develop some patriot skills in Girl Scouts, too?