March 28, 2012 | LXXI, No. 52

A cookie -- or two -- for a century

In Other Words

The month of March marked two important American anniversaries that are seemingly disconnected, but that I find to be united in their achievements. You don’t have to be a cookie lover to pay tribute to the Oreo’s 100th anniversary, nor do you have to be former troop member to mark the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary, but we can all be thankful for March 1912 when both organizations debuted.

On March 6, 1912 the first Oreo was sold in New Jersey, and that happy little cookie has been finding its way into homes across America ever since, selling 345 billion cookies since its debut. This classic sandwich cookie is unique in its ability to perplex the eater. How do you eat an Oreo? Some like to dunk it in milk, some to twist it open and lick the frosting out, and still others like to pop the entire thing in their mouths. How you eat an Oreo may define you from your neighbor, but my guess is that however you eat it, everyone appreciates it all the same. To think that people have been figuring out just how to eat this exact same cookie for 100 years is remarkable in an age where most products disappear off the shelves faster than we can buy them.

Kraft Foods, the parent company of the great cookie, staged flash mobs across America to celebrate its 100th anniversary, proving that the Oreo’s purpose, as well as its appearance and flavor, has changed very little in the 100 years since its debut. The Oreo, as a cookie, is here to remind us to have a little fun every now and then, indulge in a delicious cookie, and if you feel like dancing in the streets with a flash mob, the kid in you that just licked frosting off a cookie won’t protest.

The Girls Scouts of America also celebrated their 100th anniversary this month and while the cookies they sell didn’t show up until a little later, the monumental achievement of this organization makes its anniversary too hard to pass up without notice.

The first troops of girls to sell homemade cookies to finance their local organizations began selling cookies just a few years after its foundation. The cookies as we know them today began to show up in troops across America in the mid-1930s. Save for a slight break during World War II -- when most troops resorted to selling calendars due to butter, flour, and sugar shortages -- Girl Scouts have been using their burgeoning entrepreneur skills to sell these cookies for more than 80 years.

Today, there are 60 million living alumnae of the organization (myself included) and 3.2 million active members worldwide. And while the Girl Scouts only show up on the national map once a year when they sell their cookies, in actuality they are serving a much broader and nobler purpose than stocking our cupboards with dessert.

From its conception by a 45-year-old widow in Savannah, Georgia, the Girl Scouts of America have aimed to help girls of all backgrounds, at a time when this was a radical view. It has always been an organization that would form itself to each specific girl. Each girl could identify a skill they wished to achieve and work towards winning a merit badge, be it an outdoor skill, leadership skill, business skill or homemaking skill.

These activities bring vital skills to girls in a world where the woman’s place is no longer simply in her home but is an evolving location. Recognizing the need for multiple skills, even in 1912, the original organizers placed equal emphasis on homemaking skills and teaching women to be independent and acquire abilities to support themselves.

This month I have happily bought my share of cookies and celebrated not simply the advent of two different cookies, two different entrepreneurships and two different goals. I’d like to celebrate the idea that in our world of change and upward mobility, we can still find quality in something that has been around for a century. Here’s to another one, may millions of taste buds everywhere be thankful.

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