Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for March 7th, 2007

Are they made with real Girl Scouts?

Posted by metaphorical on 7 March 2007

The president of the Girl Scout Council wrote a letter to the NY Times the other day objecting to an article published last month, “In a Fat Nation, Are Thin Mints on Thin Ice?”

The Girl Scout argument is not that their cookies aren’t bad for you, but that they’re doing bad to do good:

A campaign to discourage people from buying Girl Scout cookies would cripple our ability to serve the girls who need us most.

Without revenue from the cookie sale, we could not provide Girl Scouting to our more than 21,000 girls ages 5 to 17 every year in New York City.

Only at the end of its letter does the Council feebly dispute the idea that cookies are bad.

Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. has eliminated trans fats from Girl Scout cookies. The Girl Scout Council of Greater New York applauds this achievement and believes that all snacks — even our favorite Girl Scout cookies, available only once a year — should be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet.

I don’t see how they can have it both ways. If New Yorkers double their consumption of Girl Scout cookies, the organization will be able to serve twice as many girls, or the same girls twice as well. That level of consumption might be unhealthy, but the fact is, the current level of consumption might already be. Who knows? A not-unhealthy level of consumption this year might turn out to perfectly align with the 2007 capital and operating expenses of the organization, but it would be nothing more than a remarkably improbable happenstance.

That telltale phrase, “eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet,” comes straight from the fast-food industry; we know that there are millions of people who eat fast food immoderately. If everyone ate fast food moderately, only as much as as would be part of a healthy diet, McDonald’s, et al., would have to close thousands of stores, revenue would plunge, and stockholders would jump out of their windows. The phrase is a classic example of Orwellian doublethink.

If consumption of girl scout cookies follows a classic bell curve shape, then something like a third of all purchasers are eating more than is good for them. If it follows the 80-20 rule, the canonical example of which comes from the immoderate consumption of beer (studies show that 20% of all beer drinkers consume 80% of all beer sold), then there are millions of cookie consumers consuming way too many cookies.

Of course people are responsible for their own over-consumption, but in the aggregate, immoderation is predictable, even inevitable. What kind of a lesson are we teaching the Girl Scouts when the organization fails to take responsibility for the consequences of its own actions?

Rather than rely on a magical coincidence of mission and nutrition, why don’t the Girl Scouts find something inherently healthful to sell, or get out of the food business entirely?

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