The Plight of the Pardoned Turkey

Turkeys are bred for suffering and being eaten, not for living.

President Obama pardoning a turkey whose internal organs will collapse under the creature’s artificially promoted weight within a years time.

A ‘pardon’ is defined as “the action of forgiving or being forgiven for an error or offense”. When used as a verb, the act of ‘pardoning’ is when you excuse a person, creature, or other entity for some perceived slight or misdeed. Most commonly, pardons are issued by an individual or cabal of great judicial power, ostensibly to provide justice to a situation in which justice has previously been lacking, but also quite often crop up as a symptom of cronyism when thug politicians desire to keep their thug politician friends from being held accountable for their illegal actions. I digress.

Whether intentionally or no, there is a demented double irony in the usage of the term ‘pardon’ to describe the fate that awaits the two turkeys every year that have the misfortune of being paraded in front of the assembled media and President of the United States. While we snicker into our napkins tomorrow about the happy and healthy lives these almost-poultry products will get to enjoy thanks to this tradition’s history of mock benevolence, it would do us all well to spare a thought for what these birds have had to endure in order to be placed in front of the mechanically grinning Obama and his similarly blank family, and what will become of the two gobblers in the not-distant future.

The turkeys chosen for the pardoning ceremony are anything but random; there is a long and protracted vetting process that the unfortunate fowl must combat on their way to the White House. This year, the two chosen birds (one will be an alternate) were drawn from a flock of 66 hatched in early July, according to The National Journal. This number was whittled down when the unenviable animals were “exposed to different noises as they grew to prepare them for the crowds and cameras during Wednesday’s pardon. They've heard everything from the hum of lawnmowers and electric fans to AC/DC, Rihanna and Lady Gaga. And a lot of Kenny Chesney.”

Turkeys, it should be remembered, are not human. The squeal of a guitar, clatter of a lawnmower, even Lady Gaga’s most dulcet tones, mean nothing to them but potential danger from an unknown force. To endlessly subject any creature to these sounds at loud volumes in their formative years cannot be considered anything other than cruel. The thought process behind this morbid process is that the turkey farmers will be able to figure out which of their ‘crop’ will be most capable of handling the overwhelming stimuli that will be part and parcel of any media event involving the President. It wouldn't do to have the pardoned turkey get spooked and cause an unpleasant scene when millions are watching at home, and so they must all suffer through the hell-loop of “a lot of Kenny Chesney.”

As unpleasant as this particular situation might be, the truth is that any and all situations must be nearly unbearable for turkeys bred to be eaten; antibiotics, overfeeding, and selective breeding have warped them into a gross mockery of their natural forms. This picture, sourced from Wired, gives us some scope on just how much the size of the average turkey has ballooned up in less than a century:

Yikes.

This year, the turkeys that will be presented tip the scale at almost fifty pounds each, nearly four times the size of the average turkey in 1929.

Not only is this state of affairs grotesque, it means that the early death of any turkey not already meeting its end in a slaughterhouse is all but guaranteed. While the pardoned turkey and its alternate will be shipped off this year to Leesburg, Virginia to see out the remainder of their lives, the odds of the two of them making it to another Thanksgiving are infinitesimal. As Keith Williams, speaking for the National Turkey Federation, put it to ABC, “They’re [the turkeys] not bred for longevity… …They’re not pets. They’re not workhorses. They don’t live that long.”

Indeed, Thanksgiving turkeys are supposed to live just long enough to reach their maximum weight, then have their throats slit before getting dragged through a scalding bath to loosen their feathers. Any life beyond this point is an aberration in the abattoir, unaccounted for. In most cases, the massive bodies of these birds will eventually collapse in on themselves. Their internal organs can become crushed under their own weight, and it is not uncommon for their legs to give away as well. All in under a year of living.

In short, it is no mercy to spare the lives of these poor animals by pardoning. They are in effect condemned the moment they are born into the industrial farm system to a life that in the best of circumstances ends quickly and at the edge of a knife, and at worst ends a few months later in pain and horror, with a lot of Kenny Chesney in between.

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