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Why a cookie recipe made this NH Girl Scout go rogue

Hammond sits on her stairs.
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
Sophia Hammond, 11, grew so concerned about an ingredient in Girl Scout cookies that she decided to bake — and sell — her own.

Sophia Hammond, 11, has been a Girl Scout for more than half of her life.

“I started when I was 5, so around six years, I guess,” she said, sitting at the kitchen table in her Plymouth home.

That’s six years of camping trips, community service, and planting trees. And while she’s also busy with other activities like the student council and school play, Girl Scouting has become a big part of Sophia's identity.

“Everybody in Girl Scouts are, like, my best friends,” she said. “Like, we hang out at school and after school and all that.”

Sophia hopes to eventually earn the Girl Scout’s Gold Award, akin to the Eagle Scout honors in Boy Scouts. And her ambition extends to the annual cookie sales. Two years ago, bored amid the pandemic, she set herself a goal of selling a box to customers in all 50 states. With the help of her mom, she made Facebook videos about the project, and watched as it caught a little fire when she finally got her last state: Delaware.

“I would say I'm very determined. Like, if I am doing something, I want to get it done,” Sophia said. “But cookies, in general, I’ve never really thought about it as a huge part of my life, but I have done a lot with them.”

Which is what makes the next bite in this cookie story so surprising: Sophia has turned vocal critic of the Girl Scout cookies. Specifically, one of the ingredients in the cookies, palm oil.

“So, palm oil causes 2 percent of major deforestation and climate change,” Sophia said, reciting from memory what she found through online research and books. “Because of palm oil, 1,000 to 5,000 orangutans are killed every year. There are also ties to child labor, human trafficking, and slavery in the harvesting of palm fruit.”

Sophia at work in her home kitchen.
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
Sophia Hammond is relying on recipes from her grandmother and some found online, but she is making substitutions for shortening, which generally also contains palm oil.

Sophia is far from the first Girl Scout to turn anti-cookie.

Scouts and troops across the country in recent years have all raised concerns about palm oil. They’ve made Youtube videos and gone on morning talk shows. The Associated Press published a detailed investigation into the subject in 2020, documenting the links between palm harvesting and child labor.

Learning all this spurred Sophia to action: “One of our main things in Girl Scouts, it's in our pledge, trying to make the world a better place. And I don’t think that the ingredient in Girl Scout cookies is doing that, so I don’t support it, and I wanted to try to do something else.”

Doing something else, in this case, meant baking her own cookies.

In January, Sophia went door to door, offering her neighbors a chance to buy traditional Girl Scout cookies, or cookies she would make using her grandma’s recipes and ones found online, in her own kitchen.

Chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, oatmeal raisin, and coconut macaroons were all on offer — all made without the controversial palm oil.

From Sophia’s perspective, the plan worked. She wound up selling 138 boxes of real Girl Scout cookies, and received orders for 44 dozen cookies that would be baked by her — an actual Girl Scout. Both versions carried the same price tag: $5.

Before embarking on her rogue cookie sales, Sophia got the okay from her local troop and troop leader, but she didn’t check with the regional Girl Scout council, which coordinates cookie sales. Easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

“Really the worst that can happen is they can sue us, or kick me out of Girl Scouts,” she said. “But if they kick me out of Girl Scouts for doing this, I wouldn’t be that upset to leave.”

The way she sees it, if the Girl Scouts do take action against her “for me being an entrepreneur, even though they’ve taught me how to do it, I wouldn't be that upset.”

But whatever consequences Sophia may be fearing, a call to the top Girl Scout in the region quickly extinguished those concerns.

“No, I would never sue Sophia,” said Tricia Mellor, the head of the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, which oversees all the troops in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Mellor said that her 6,500 scouts are aiming to sell about 1.4 million cookies this campaign. That money then helps finance the programs and community service work the girls perform the rest of the year.

She said she’s not mad about Sophia’s advocacy.

“We are proud of Sophia for being passionate about an issue that she strongly believes in,” Mellor said. “That’s what Girl Scouting is all about.”

Sophia isn’t going to face any punishment for her cookie side hustle, but Mellor did push back on her criticism of the Girl Scout recipe. She said the Girl Scouts have changed the sourcing of their ingredients in response to concerns from girls. Their corporate bakers pledge to use sustainability sourced palm oil, though critics say unsustainable oil still likely finds its way into the supply chain.

photo of Sophia scooping dough onto a sheet pan
Todd Bookman/NHPR

Mellor said the harvesting of other vegetable oils pose their own environmental hazards, and that palm oil improves taste and keeps cookies crispy.

For Sophia’s recipes, she’s had to make modifications to remove shortening as an ingredient, as most brands include palm oil.

But that didn’t explain why the first batch of homemade oatmeal cookies she baked were such a disappointment.

“It was mush, but it was like, crunchy mush,” Sophia said.

But with the help of her father, Malik Hammond, who, helpfully, spent a career in commercial kitchens, they’ve now got the oatmeal and peanut cookie recipes dialed in.

“They’re good,” she confirmed after taking a bite of the first batch.

Sophia did some rough math on her ingredient costs, and expects to profit around $100 from the sale of her own cookies.

She will donate that money back to her local troop.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.