Day 81–Cracking the Cookie Code

Chocolate chip cookie dough.

Ok, I had mixed emotions about the two-month-long cookie sale for our Girl Scout troop. I don’t love the idea of young people out peddling highly processed, sugary food when we already struggle with getting them to eat healthy. But, in the spirit of tradition (and out of fear of the Girl Scout Council), I pushed ahead, stayed positive, kept my issues to myself and we all survived. We counted cookies, set up booths, counted some more, hit up our neighbors, collected money, counted some more and then…we were done! No. More. Cookies!

Then, I received an email from Ellie’s middle school band director. The band’s booster club had chosen a fundraiser to purchase some badly needed equipment and defray the cost for the steel drum band to perform at Disney World. This fundraiser…is…wait for it…selling tubs of raw cookie dough. AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH. Are you kidding me?

First, let me say that I am a huge supporter of PTA’s and school arts programs, especially band programs–how cool is it that we even have a middle school steel drum band? And I am a big fan of our school’s band director–he is amazing and, for patiently teaching all those hormonally charged young people, he probably deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. I contacted the band director immediately and explained our dilemma. Did I say how awesome he is? He is awesome. I suggested that instead of purchasing a vat of cookie dough, we make a family donation to the band boosters to cover the proceeds of what we might have sold. No problem.

Except there is a problem. And that problem is called “sales incentives”. Or as the folks at Entertainment Fundraising call it: the “Extreme Fundraising Prize Pool”. The dazzling array of cheaply produced, made-in-a-sweat-shop goods had Ellie smitten. And, there is some social peer pressure involved. Those of you without children, do not judge. It’s unfathomable the frenzy these cheap prizes cause within a school. So, after a great deal of discussion, we decided to find out what is in the cookie dough, and if it didn’t seem too terrible, we would see if our neighbors wanted any. If there were unpronounceable ingredients or big health issues, we would pass. No problem.

Except there was another problem. And that problem is called “we’re not going to tell you what is in our cookie dough”. Or, as the folks at Entertainment Fundraising call it: “Secret Ingredients”.

After a fruitless online search to find ingredient lists, I called Entertainment Fundraising to see if they could email me a list of ingredients in their cookie dough. In this day of food allergies, that didn’t seem like a crazy request. I spoke with “Charles” about this at length. Our conversation went something like this:

C:   This is Charles at Entertainment Fundraising!!!! How can I help you!!!!

Me: Hi Charles, our school band is selling your tubs of cookie dough this spring…

C:  Great!!! The cookie dough is super!!!

Me:  Yes, well, I’m looking for a list of the ingredients in the different doughs, but I can’t find one online. Can you help me with this?

C:   Oh (no more exclamation points). No, we can’t give you the list of ingredients.

Me:  Um, ok, why is that?

C:   We cannot communicate with anyone except the fundraiser chairperson.

Me: Um, ok, why is that?

C:  They have the special code to download information from the website.

Me: Does this information include ingredients?

C:  Probably.

Me: But you can’t send it to me?

C:  No.

Me: And why is that?

C: Your fundraising chairperson has the special code.

Me: Hmm, well that seems odd, Charles, but I’ll try to get in touch with our fundraising chairperson…

C: Ok, great!!!! And thank YOU for supporting the children!!!

Me: Whatevs.

I thought for sure, I would never see an ingredient list. Then, this morning I received several pdf files from the band director in my email (because he is awesome). Ingredients lists! Overall, the cookie doughs use a lot of partially hydrogenated oils (which by their nature include trans fats), several different kinds of sugar including fructose and some of the cookies include parabens. Being raw cookie dough, they also include preservatives, which is not a huge surprise. I showed the list to some folks I work with and they all agreed that 1) a vat of cookie dough is, in principle, gross and 2) they were not interested in foods with such a high level of fat.

In the end, this has spurred a lot of thinking about how we talk the talk of health with our children, but we really don’t put that into practice when it counts. We tell them to make good choices, then send them out to sell poor choices to other people. As a result of all this, I have made an offer to the PTA to start a Wellness Committee of teachers, parents and students at the school, but haven’t heard back.

But for reals now, I am done with cookies…