The Disrespect of Pardoning a Turkey

The festival of Thanksgiving has ended and an annual precursor to these celebrations, the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation, which includes the 'pardoning' of two turkeys, took place the day before. While there have been many articles talking about the true history of thanksgiving in terms of the colonisation of North America and thanksgiving as mourning on the part of Native Americans, there are hardly any in the mainstream media considering the ethics of mutilating and consuming 46 million turkeys every year.

Every media house however did, aside from listing the many, many ways that a turkey can be cooked, cover the traditional 'pardoning' of the turkey, and I suddenly wondered what exactly was the turkey being pardoned for? Crimes against the State? Using up more space in its cramped, dark shed than it should? Rallying a group of activists to call for equal rights (or rights, period)?

After some research I discovered that the first turkey pardon was actually a frustrated and snide joke. Ronald Reagan is the first American president on record to 'pardon' a turkey, after hitting out at criticism over the Iran-Contra affair and whether or not he would be pardoning someone for allegedly being involved. So the original pardon had nothing to do with ethics or compassion - it was just a joke. It was disrespectful.

George HW Bush then instituted the turkey pardoning as an official annual event as a response to the efforts of animal rights activists, in an effort to show that the State can indeed be empathic and caring. Wow, really? One whole turkey out of millions? (Well, I'm not certain of the number of turkeys slain in 1989, but it was likely a lot - especially after Bush popularised the turkey as the cornerstone of the Thanksgiving meal.) I hope the activists weren't satisfied with such a response, as it was thoughtless and disrespectful.

Since then, two turkeys have been pardoned every year, being sent to wonderland locations around the country. Like Disney Land.

It's all such a farce. It's misdirection. These turkeys are mutilated and tortured: they are debeaked, have their claws slashed off, and males have their snoods cut off - without anaesthetic. They live in sheds among thousands of other turkeys, walking in their own droppings and sometimes resorting to cannibalism. They are very likely to die during transport to slaughter due to stress. And, worst of all, they are not recognised (in the US) as applying to the Humane Slaughter Act. This means they can have their throats slit, be pummelled on the head, be singed in a steamer, be plucked, and who knows what else while still alive and conscious. To treat any living being in such a way is disrespectful.

Oh, but this is alright because two turkeys have been pardoned for what would appear to be nothing but the mere fact of their existence to feed us humans, apex predators that we are. 

Personally, I cannot imagine a bird the same weight as my three-and-a-half-year-old toddler lying on my table and being the centre of a meal about being thankful. 

Certainly we humans can be thankful it is not we who make the centrepiece of a dinner spread, because we have rights.

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