For over one hundred years, Girl Scouts in the United States have been selling cookies to raise money to support the activities of over one hundred Girl Scout regional councils around the country. The sales typically take place in the months of January to April and have become seriously big business: generating over $800 million through the sale of more than 200 million packets.
According to the Girl Scouts movement, their annual cookie sales are the largest girl-run and girl-led financial literacy program in the world, and the biggest fundraiser in the world dedicated solely to girls.
But are any of those 200 million packets suitable for vegans? In this article, we take a deep dive into the ingredients of the enormously popular cookies. But first, let’s look at the fascinating story behind the tradition of selling Girl Scout Cookies.
The origins of Girl Scout Cookies
The Girl Scouts of the United States of America are a branch of the international scouting movement for young people. Scouting was founded by Lord Baden-Powell in the UK in 1907, with the creation of the Boy Scouts. It aims to promote positive characteristics like compassion and courage, while also supporting boys and girls to develop practical skills (with a particular focus on the outdoors).
By 1910, the Girl Guides were established, bringing the principles of scouting to young girls. The movement rapidly spread to the United States, with the establishment of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America by Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah, Georgia in 1912.
Just five years later, the first-known Girl Scouts cookie sale took place in Oklahoma, and the idea caught on fast. As the business grew the Girl Scout movement moved away from home-baked cookies into agreeing licensing deals with commercial bakeries, to produce the cookies that the girls then sell.
Interestingly, one of the rules of the Scout Law is “a Scout is a friend to animals – he does not make them suffer or kill without need to do so.” Also, one of the key skills that the cookie-selling program aims to instill in girls is “business ethics.” But does this focus on animals and ethics translate into vegan Girl Scout Cookies? Let’s find out.
Are Girl Scout Cookies vegan?
The Girl Scouts license two national commercial bakeries to produce cookies on their behalf. The currently licensed companies are ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers. At the moment, there are 16 varieties of Girl Scout cookies listed on the Girl Guides of the United States of America website (although not all of these varieties are available in all areas).
The majority of these 16 varieties are not suitable for vegans. That is because they typically contain milk and/or eggs. The following list highlights the Girl Scout cookies brands that are not suitable for vegans (NB – where two names are shown for a particular product, it is the same cookie produced under different names by different bakeries):
Toast-Yay, Lemon-Ups, Caramel deLites/Samoas, Shortbread/Trefoils, Do-si-do’s/Peanut Butter Sandwich, Tagalongs, Caramel Chocolate Chip, Toffee-tastic, Girl Scout S’mores (the graham sandwich cookie version produced by Little Brownie Bakers).
However, here is the good news. If you are a vegan fan of Girl Scout cookies, you will be delighted to discover that there are currently five varieties that are suitable for vegans. See below to discover which ones and to discover a few other things that you need to look out for when selecting a vegan Girl Scout Cookie brand.
Which Girl Scout Cookies are suitable for vegans?
The following Girl Scout Cookies are currently considered suitable for vegans as they do not contain any ingredients directly derived from animals (the name in brackets is the company that makes them):
- Lemonades (ABC Bakers)
- Peanut Butter Patties (ABC Bakers)
- Thanks-A-Lot (ABC Bakers)
- Girl Scout S’mores (only the chocolate-coated version produced by ABC Bakers, those made by Little Brownie Bakers are not vegan)
- Thin Mints (both ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers’ versions)
As attentive readers will have noted, a key thing to be aware of is that sometimes the same variety is sold under two different names depending on which bakery has produced them. This is particularly relevant for vegans when looking at the Girl Scout S’mores. The ones produced by ABC Bakers are vegan; the ones from Little Brownie Bakers are not (because they contain whey, a dairy product).
The variety that is available in your area depends on which of the two baking companies your local Girl Guides are using. So, it is important to check the label on Girl Scout S’mores to make sure you are getting the vegan version.
As the above list also shows, ABC Bakery is the only manufacturer that makes more than one vegan Girl Scout cookie. Thin Mints are the only cookie that is vegan in both the ABC Bakers and the Little Brownie Bakers’ versions.
Other issues to consider
Just before you buy up all the selections of the vegan Girl Scout cookies available in your local area, it is important to remember that there are a couple of other issues to consider when looking at the ingredients list.
As discussed in previous posts on this site, sugar can be a concern for some vegans because of the way it is processed. The issue is that some cane sugar is passed through a filter made from “bone char” (i.e. the charred bones of animals, normally cows or pigs).
It’s very difficult to find out which cane sugars have been through this process, and which haven’t. The easiest way to guarantee that what you are purchasing hasn’t been through bone char processing is to look for either beet sugar or organic cane sugar. If you are concerned about this issue, further research is required to establish exactly the sugar types used in Girl Scout Cookies.
Another ingredient that concerns some vegans is palm oil. Again, like sugar, this is technically vegan in the sense that it comes from a plant. However, many ethical vegans have concerns about the links between palm oil plantations and the destruction of the tropical rainforest habitat of numerous endangered species (most prominently the orangutans of Borneo and Sumatra).
The palm oil issue is one that the Girl Scouts have responded to following a four-year campaign led by two Girl Scouts, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen. They protested against the use of the controversial ingredient after learning about the role played by palm oil plantations in the destruction of the habitat of endangered orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Thanks to the girls’ campaign, the Girls Scouts of the United States of America announced in 2011 that it would only use palm oil that is certified sustainable. Although some vegans still prefer to avoid even palm oil marked as sustainable because of the way it is mixed together with other palm oils in the production process. Ultimately, decisions about palm oil come down to each individual’s own ethics.
So, what does it all mean? The majority of Girl Scout Cookies are not vegan. But there are five varieties of vegan Girl Scout Cookies: Lemonades, Peanut Butter Patties, Thanks-A-Lot, Girl Scout S’mores, and Thin Mints. None of these versions contain ingredients directly derived from animals, but they do have sugar and (sustainable) palm oil, which may raise further questions for some ethical vegans.