With the recent opening of Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity, everyone here at the JMM has food on the brain. (Admittedly, it does not take much for our conversations to turn to food, but at least now we have an excuse!) The exhibition opening coincided with a major food-related event in my household, the arrival of Girl Scout cookies! This inspired me to think about whether or not there was a connection between the two events.
When my daughter decided to join a Brownie troop this year, we quickly learned about the importance of the cookie sales as an invaluable source of support for the organization. Already at our first troop meeting, the girls had opportunity to sample cookies and to discuss strategies for selling. And then the order forms arrived, and the selling began in earnest. Finally, we got the email that the cookies had arrived and were housed in a church nearby. A friend of mine had graciously volunteered to help pick up the cookies so my kids and I rushed to help her not realizing exactly how challenging it would be to fit 108 cases of cookies in our van, not to mention out of the van and up a flight of stairs into her living room.
Thanks to our intrepid helpers, the boxes were all loaded and unloaded, and organized into neat piles and ready for pick up!
The history of Girl Scout sales goes back to 1917 when a troop in Muskogee, Oklahomaundertook a cookie sale to raise funds to support their activities. In 1933, a troop in Philadelphia organized the first official cookie drive, and by 1936, Girl Scouts of America began contracting with commercial cookie companies to bake the cookies that we have all come to know and love (the first recipe was for a sugar cookie!) The kinds of cookies currently available for sale vary regionally and are sold under different names in different places. From year to year, certain types of cookies are dropped due to lack of popularity while new flavors are launched.
A few of the mainstays include perennial favorites Thin Mints, Do-si-dos (peanut butter filling), and Samoas(vanilla cookies covered in caramel, coconut, and chocolate). (For more details about specific cookie varieties, check out http://littlebrowniebakers.com/) As of 2007, sales were estimated at about 200 million boxes per year! (For more information about the history of Girl Scout cookies, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_Scout_cookie.)
What exactly is the connection between an exhibition about Jewish food traditions and Girl Scout cookies? Imagine my surprise and delight when I looked over the order form and saw a hechsher (special certification marking found on packages of food that are certified kosher) proudly stamped on the order form next to the description of each cookie.
Like many other food companies with national distribution, the Girl Scouts have caught onto the benefit of offering a product that is certified as kosher as a way of making the cookies accessible to all (and believe me, many of my colleagues are doing their part to ensure that they meet their sale goals of 200 million boxes of cookies this year!) A section of the Chosen Food exhibit is dedicated to explaining and exploring the mysteries of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws derived from the Bible and rabbinic extensions)
Now that your appetite for Girl Scout cookies has surely been whetted and you’re probably feeling sad that no adorable children in green or brown vests came knocking on your door with a sales pitch, don’t fret. You can still order cookies directly from their website: http://www.gscm.org/programs/productsales/cookies.html. Please order me another box of Thin Mints!