The Great Girl Scout Cookie Shortage of World War II

Girl Scouts
Girl Scouts

In the early spring of 1943, Girl Scout Cookie chairwoman A.A. Rabe had some devastating news for residents of St. Petersburg, Florida, who were looking forward to getting their boxes of Girl Scout Cookies: There weren’t going to be enough.

In a crisis the likes of which American pantries had never seen, Rabe solemnly informed supporters of the venerable female troop that a war shortage of key ingredients had led to a dramatic supply issue with thousands of boxes of cookies. If a customer had ordered two, they would be lucky to get one. If they ordered one, it was anyone’s guess as to what would happen.

“Whereas before we have always worried about how we are going to sell all of the cookies and candy that we have to sell, this year we wonder how we can supply Girl Scouts with as many boxes as they have taken orders for,” Mrs. Sidney B. Miner, Commissioner of the Scouts, explained.

The message was repeated around the country: Hitler had cost America its favorite cookie.

Girl Scouts

Thrust in our faces by pint-sized salespeople, order forms for Girl Scout Cookies are a pervasive part of the winter season. Thanks to effective marketing—and plenty of doe-eyed guilt-tripping—the Girl Scouts of the USA manage to move around 200 million boxes of cookies during their annual fundraising drive, netting an estimated $500 million (after costs) for camping trips and other organizational costs. The more boxes ordered, the better. With contracts with major baking companies like Keebler and ABC Bakers, there’s rarely a time when they can’t fulfill demand.

The cookie hustle began in 1917, when the Muskogee, Oklahoma chapter of the then-5-year-old organization began selling baked goods out of high school cafeterias to raise money. In 1922, a recipe for a simple sugar cookie was published in the official Girl Scouts magazine, inciting many of the country’s 2000-plus squads to mobilize in the kitchen.

Business was brisk through the 1930s, with chocolate and vanilla cookies being bought and consumed for as little as 23 cents a box. But by 1943, a grim reality had set in: Due to the country’s entry into the Second World War, the various lards and sugars that made up the cookies were being diverted and rationed to the military. Honey, dried skim milk, salt, chocolate—all of it was in short supply and high demand. As delicious as they were, Girl Scout Cookies did not take priority.

In St. Petersburg, chapter leaders warned customers that only 8000 boxes of cookies and candy would be allocated for distribution in 1943, down from 11,000 the previous year. Brownies, the lowest class of Scout, would be given just 10 boxes to sell.

Indianapolis had it even worse. Orders were short by more than 25,000 boxes, slicing the number of packages due to buyers in half. The commercial bakers the Scouts had come to rely on once business grew were now busy baking for soldiers, thus reducing their available labor.

In total, it was estimated that more than 1 million cookies projected to enter Indianapolis residents' stomachs that year would never be baked.

If the Scouts were dismayed by the prospect of reduced revenue, they didn’t make a public show of it. Deprived of their sweet currency, Scouts took to alternative means of raising support for their ventures. Some troops collected and turned in scrap metal; others sold war bonds. A few hoarded cooking fat. The most pervasive strategy was to sell a Girl Scouts calendar.

The shortage continued through 1944 and 1945, with limited resources, depending on a troop’s location. Some, like Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania’s arm, had sugar benefactors who reserved ingredients specifically for their cookie efforts. In Miami, Oklahoma, troops gathered to bake specifically for wounded soldiers.

By 1946, the crisis had seemed to evaporate, and the cookies resumed their dominance among fundraising efforts. In 1948, an estimated 29 bakers were contracted to meet the demand, with a greater variety—like Thin Mints and peanut butter—soon added to the rotation.

Today, Girl Scout Cookies can be purchased in gluten-free and vegan varieties, with Scouts expected to fulfill as many orders as they can gather. But if circumstances should ever warrant another shortage, take heart: You can use the original 1922 recipe to bake your own.

What’s That Thing That Hangs Off a Turkey’s Face?

iStock.com/JZHunt
iStock.com/JZHunt

That thing is called a snood. And it's there to let the other turkeys know that its owner is kind of a big deal.

When a male turkey—known as a tom—wants to mate, he faces two hurdles. One is his potential mates, the female turkeys (a.k.a. hens). In the realm of turkey mating, the hens wield the power of choice and the toms have to get their attention and win the opportunity to reproduce. Come mating season, a tom will strut around, gobble, puff out his chest, fan his tail, and drag his wings to attract the hens, who then pick which of the toms they’ll mate with.

The second problem for a tom looking for love is the other toms in the area. They’re all competing for the same limited number of hens. Sometimes a good mating display isn’t enough to win a mate, and toms will attack and fight each other to secure a hen. 

This is where the snood comes in. That goofy-looking piece of dangling flesh helps a tom both with choosy hens and with competition from rival males. Having a long snood almost always means that a hen will want to mate with him and that another tom will back down from a fight.

DUDES AND THEIR SNOODS

When two toms are trying to establish dominance, they’ll size each other up. Then they'll either fight, or one will flee.

In the late 1990s, Richard Buchholz, an animal behaviorist who focuses on turkeys, wanted to figure out which, if any, characteristics of a tom turkey could predict how they fare in dominance fights. That is, did bigger turkeys tend to win more scuffles? Did older ones? He also wanted to see if the turkeys used any of these predictive cues when sizing each other up. He looked at various characteristics of dominant toms that fight and win, and compared them to those of subordinate toms that lose fights or run from them. Of all the characteristics he looked at, only “relaxed snood length” seemed to be a reliable predictor of how a tom would do in bird-vs-bird combat. The dominant males, the ones who won fights and got a choice mate, had longer snoods.

With that in mind, Buchholz looked at how toms reacted to other toms with snoods of varying sizes. The birds tended to avoid confrontation with other males with longer snoods, and wouldn’t even feed near them. A big snood, this suggests, says to the other turkeys that this is a tom you don’t want to tangle with. Buchholz noted that snood length correlates with age, body mass, and testosterone, so, to competitors, the snood could be a good indicator of a tom’s aggressiveness, age/experience, size, and overall condition and fighting ability.

IN THE SNOOD FOR LOVE

Once the males have established who’s going to have a chance to mate, the final choice goes to the hen. While the mating display is the main draw for getting a hen to check him out, a tom’s snood helps him out again here.

Like it did for the other males, a tom’s snood signals a lot of information to a female assessing potential mates—it indicates how old and how big he is, and even says something about his health. In another study, Buchholz found that longer-snooded toms carried fewer parasites. If a hen wanted to choose a mate with good genes that might help her offspring grow large, live long, and avoid parasites, a tom’s snood is a good advertisement for his genes. In that study, hens showed a clear preference for toms with longer snoods. In another experiment years later, Buchholz found that healthy hens again showed a strong preference for long snoods and that hens with their own parasite problems were less picky about snood length and checked out more potential mates—perhaps, Buchholz thinks, because the hens recognized their own susceptibility to infection and were willing to invest more time searching for a tom with genes for parasite resistance that would complement their own—but still showed some preference for longer ones.

While a snood might look goofy to us, for a turkey, it’s integral to the mating game, signaling to other toms that they should get out of his way and letting hens know that he’s got what they’re looking for.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2013.

What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

iStock
iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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