Thanksgiving is America’s most traditional holiday. From its early origins as a celebration of survival and cooperation, it has been stuffed with everything from football to floats to family fights to terrible travel, and now it even contains the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season.
However, not every tradition associated with Thanksgiving is appropriate for such a beloved holiday. Although I love the gluttony, the gobbling, and the gravy along with all the thanking and giving, there is one tradition about Thanksgiving that really ruffles my feathers, and as traditions go, it is quite terrible.
That terrible tradition is the presidential pardoning of turkeys. Every year our president makes a big deal about pardoning a pair of turkeys and I have had enough of it. In today’s troubled times there is no rhyme or reason for the proliferation of a presidential pardon for a pair of perfectly good Toms.
First and foremost it is a waste of two tasty turkeys. Whether it’s in Aspen or almost any other part of America, more and more folks are looking for some sort of help to put food on the table. With so many people starving there seems little sense in letting two succulent turkeys wobble away uneaten.
Yesterday President Obama pardoned two turkeys. What a waste. It’s not as if the First Family isn’t having Turkey on its table this Thanksgiving. They are. But with Michelle Obama calling the culinary shots you know their turkey is probably some sort of free-range, yoga doing, tofu eating, union-made, hormone-free, all-organic, antibiotic-free, cruelty free, died-in-its-sleep stuffer.
I can only wonder what the Pilgrims of Plymouth would think if they learned that one of the offshoots of their historic harvest was wasting two turkeys. After watching about half of their friends and family die of starvation during their first winter, I’m not so sure the survivors would welcome waste like the Native Americans welcomed them.
What makes it worse is that the pardoned turkeys do not go on to live long, prosperous lives. After their pardon they are either whisked away to Disneyland like a Superbowl winner, or are shipped off to some farm in the D.C. area. Regardless of where they land they don’t live long. Most are dead before the next Thanksgiving. Obscenely obese with their breasts brushing the ground, the turkeys the presidents pardon are born and bred for one thing. And it’s not a long life. They are raised and reared to be stuffed, sliced and served.
It’s not as if a president pardoning Tom turkey is an old-time American tradition. With roots dating back to tales of a Christmas when Lincoln pardoned a turkey his son had taken as a pet, the practice of pre-Thanksgiving presidential pardons for poultry is sometimes put on the plate of Harry S. Truman. But some say there is no evidence that Truman let any turkey trot away with its life.
The first known case of a president passing on a turkey was JFK back in 1963. But JFK did not grant the turkey an official pardon. It was a bit more of a casual affair than that. The story goes that while at a public ceremony he was presented with a prized bird and after Jack took one look at the frightened, feathered beast panting and popping its head back and forth, he thought it was not a suitable gravy sponge for Jackie O’s homemade Greek gravy. He decided that letting the pathetic poultry live would be a Thanksgiving gift to the turkey.
Although other presidents have followed Kennedy’s example of freeing fowl for Thanksgiving, none seemed to embrace and enjoy it more than George W. Bush. As ironic as it was that Kennedy was killed just days after granting clemency to a gobbler, perhaps nothing was more ironic than having to watch W’s parade of pomp and circumstance surrounding his Turkey Day pardons.
As Governor of Texas, Bush’s pardons were few and far between. Under his tenure, the Lone Star state executed 152 people, and according to reports only one death sentence was commuted. No pardons were granted. Yet the pro-life president pardoned a rafter of turkeys during his eight years in the Oval Office. Talk about hard to stomach.
Not all traditions are worth keeping, especially when they involve the wasting of food. It is time to pull the plug on the presidential pardon of turkeys. It’s a terrible tradition.
Contact Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org.