Every year in a lavish—or stupid, pointless, or innately ironic (call it what you will)—ceremony, the president spares one turkey (well, technically two turkeys, but more on that later) from being killed in order to end up on a dinner table. At the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation, a turkey is “pardoned,” despite never having committed a crime, and people take pictures. And then none of it—the fanfare, the pardoned turkeys, the speciesism—is really mentioned again.
Now, you’ve probably noticed that the president doesn’t endorse soft drinks (or cigarettes or asbestos or cyanide pills), so why does he promote an industry that wreaks havoc on the health of the American public, contributes to environmental devastation, and abuses millions of animals every year?
Your guess is as good as ours.
The yearly ceremony is typically attended by representatives from associations like the National Turkey Federation—part of an industry that profits from raising and killing as many animals as they can as quickly as possible.
Worse yet, the 2015 turkeys will come from Foster Farms—a company not only responsible for sickening more than 600 people by selling salmonella-infected chicken but also somehow under the impression that the deplorable conditions on its chicken farms are “humane.”
Foster Farms asked children to help vote for the turkeys who would be flown to the White House for this year’s ceremony. One little girl, who was seemingly both the kindest person in attendance and the one with the most common sense, said, “I was voting for one of the nervous ones because I think every turkey should be given a chance”—which gets us right in the feels.
So why are there two pardoned turkeys each year?
It turns out that the birds are at such a high risk of falling ill or even dying before the ceremony takes place that they need a “backup.” On today’s factory farms, the birds are bred to grow so large so fast that their organs can barely keep up, if they keep up at all. Up to 10 percent of turkeys on factory farms die before they even reach the slaughterhouse. Factory-farmed turkeys are so unnaturally large that many can’t even stand up without experiencing pain.
But what happens to the birds after the ceremony ends?
Retirement in a sunny Florida community? A stress-free life on Easy Street? Nope.
For a while, the turkeys were sent to a place called Frying Pan Farm Park, which would be like shipping off our elders to “Graveyard Gardens” or “Mausoleum Mountain.” Then, for a few years, they were shipped to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, where they were dubbed the “happiest turkeys on Earth” and forced to appear in parades.
After a team of folks in suits decided that sick, dying birds were, in fact, NOT the stuff that children’s dreams were made of, the turkeys were, for a hot minute, instead pulled by horse-drawn carriages to pens at Mount Vernon, the former plantation home of George Washington in Virginia. That’s right—what better way to celebrate institutionalized cruelty to one set of living beings than by forcing another to suffer, too?
The birds continued being sent to Mount Vernon until, in an appeal to historical accuracy, it was determined that the turkeys used for food today are too large, too sickly, and too far removed from the appearance of turkeys who lived in Washington’s time to be kept there. Yes, the birds were deemed too unnatural to look at but still somehow A-OK for people to be eating.
Today the turkeys are sent to Morven Park in Virginia, where they receive the high levels of attention and veterinary care that is required solely to keep them alive, although even that isn’t for very long. Turkeys raised for their meat have been systematically bred in a way that causes them to “grow to death.”
Let’s go back in time and look at what happened to the pardoned turkeys from the last few years’ worth of ceremonies…
Apple died less than one year after the ceremony.
Cider also died less than one year after the ceremony.
Peace was euthanized less than one year after the ceremony.
Liberty died in 2013 at age 2 as a result of heart failure.
Gobbler died less than one year after the ceremony.
Cobbler was euthanized less than one year after the ceremony.
Popcorn died of heatstroke less than one year after the ceremony.
Caramel, according to a Morven Park staffer quoted in an October 2015 article, was thought by his caretakers to be “the longest living presidential pardoned turkey.” By November 2015, he had died.
— Desair (Brown) Shaw (@desairbrown) November 26, 2013
Cheese could not even walk when he arrived at Morven Park.
Both he and Mac died in the fall of 2015.
— Joy Malbon (@JoyCTV) November 26, 2014
While pardonees Wishbone and Drumstick have already died, you’ll be shocked by what PETA found when we paid a visit to Gobblers Rest on the campus of Virginia Tech, where the four living turkeys “pardoned” by former President Donald J. Trump in 2018 and 2019 are kept.
These turkeys (named Peas, Carrots, Bread, and Butter) are unable to breathe fresh air, forage, or feel the sun on their backs in the Gobblers Rest pavilion. Two of these highly social birds are kept alone. None of them can dust bathe or roost—things that are very important to them—or even hide from the bright artificial lighting.
The pardoned turkeys are evidently so frustrated by their present conditions that they’re pulling out their own—and each other’s—feathers. Brown staining on both Bread’s and Butter’s tail feathers could be symptomatic of tremendous stress and gastrointestinal ailments or could simply show that the birds can’t avoid their own feces in their cramped pens.
PETA has already secured placement for these birds and is standing by to transport them to a reputable sanctuary, where they can spend the remainder of their lives. Virginia Tech should make the merciful, decent choice for these elderly, ailing individuals and allow PETA to retire them to a place of true rest. You can urge officials at the school to do just that:
Turkeys deserve better. You can help them.
These smart, sensitive birds—who have been known to enjoy clucking along to music and love to have their feathers stroked—deserve some respect, not a presidential endorsement of their suffering. Meat is laden with saturated animal fat and cholesterol, primary contributors to some of our nation’s top killers, including heart disease and strokes. Eating meat wreaks havoc on our health and the environment. By some estimates, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all of the world’s transportation systems combined.
Each year, 45 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving alone. To let that sink in, that’s more turkeys than the entire human populations of the three largest metropolitan areas in the United States (New York City/Newark, New Jersey; Los Angeles/Anaheim, California; and Chicago) COMBINED.
By hosting a vegan Thanksgiving and encouraging your friends and family to do the same, your money won’t go to support this cruelty and environmental devastation. Give turkeys everywhere a real break by reducing the demand for their flesh.
Need help planning a kick-ass, animal-free Thanksgiving? We’ve got you covered.