Talking Turkey At The White House

With his daughters watching, President Obama pardons a turkey. AP photo

With his daughters watching, President Obama pardons a turkey. AP photo

This week and Thanksgivings 2014, 2015 and 2016 are President Obama’s last times to pardon turkeys. It’s a meaningless gesture when you consider that Americans eat about 45 million turkeys each holiday.

There’s evidence that White House pardons go back to Abe Lincoln in 1864. A reporter wrote that “a live turkey had been brought home for the Christmas dinner, but Lincoln’s son Tad interceded in behalf of its life … Tad’s plea was admitted and the turkey’s life spared.”

Others claim Harry Truman did it first, but scholars at the Truman Library knocked that one down.

Former presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon returned turkeys presented to the White House to either their original farms or local petting zoos. George H.W. Bush was the first president to publicly announce a turkey pardon.

People have been gifting the White House with Thanksgiving turkeys since 1870. Horace Vose of Rhode Island did it first. He died in 1913 and the next year the White House invited gift turkeys from all offerers. The poultry industry jumped right in!

Sometimes the White House occupants ate turkey and sometimes not because they wanted other meats for the holiday.

President Obama has pardones two turkeys a year..

Turkeys bred for eating aren’t built to live long, so the presidential pardon is just an extension of the death sentence for birds too fat and too big-breasted to live normally or reproduce.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) always asks the White House to stop this presentation-of-the-turkey business. It calls the turkey an “intelligent animal,” although you’ll get a lot of argument on that one!

This probably goes to the controversial issue of eating meat.

I confess to being a hard-core meat eater. Almost any animal. All manner of seafood except butterfish (hate it). I love venison, boar, alligator and rabbit. And the pink meat of young calf. I prefer grass-fed beef and lamb to corn-fed, but one cannot always be fussy.

All that said, I do have qualms. I’m eating sentient creatures that have been raised for no purpose other than ingestion by humans. Each year, we kill and eat 293 million cows, 518 million sheep, 633 million turkeys, a billion pigs and 52 billion chickens.

I’m too set in my ways to quit – maybe like a hooked smoker – but I do have moments of second thoughts when I wonder why we’ve not evolved beyond the predator-and-prey stage since there’s no shortage of edible plant food, and growing grain and greens is easier on the planet than grazing cattle.

But it’s Thanksgiving and I’ll be eating a Manischewitz-brined roast turkey Thursday to mark our American holiday, which this year falls on the Jewish observance of Hanukkah – the Feast of Dedication.