Every year, 50 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving dinners across the nation. However, one lucky bird is named the National Thanksgiving Turkey and receives an official pardon by the president. Actually two are pardoned, there’s always a runner-up picked as well. But what happens to these turkeys after they’re pardoned?
From 2005-2010, pardoned turkeys have gone to the happiest place on earth—Disney World! In 2010, Disney decided to stop taking in the pardoned birds. Which is a good thing according to Farm Sanctuary, who claims at least half of the turkeys that have been sent to Disney have died within one year of arrival. According to Farm Sanctuary, “Disney’s track record shows that it simply is not able to provide the level of care necessary to keep these birds healthy, happy, and comfortable for years.” In defense of Disney, turkeys raised for food are fattened up and are at least twice the size of their wild relatives. These fat birds are not raised to live longer than it takes to make it to your dinner table.
Since 2010, the pardoned turkeys have been leaving the White House for what is arguably the most patriotic place in the United States: Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Northern Virginia home. The turkeys are housed in Mount Vernon’s livestock facility, which unfortunately isn’t open to the public.
Throughout the years, the turkeys presented to the Presidents were “dressed” and I don’t mean they were wearing clothes. However, in 1989 that all changed. According to the White House, President George H.W. Bush was the first to actually offer a turkey pardon. On November 14, 1989, he announced that year’s bird had “been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” He sent the turkey on his way to the unfortunately named Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Virginia, and with that, a tradition was born.
Another Reason to Pardon a Turkey
Even though 98 percent of the land animals Americans eat are turkeys and chickens, the Federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act specifically excludes birds from protection. More than 9 billion turkeys and chickens are killed in the U.S. each year. If you decided to make a tofurkey instead of a turkey this year, congratulations! Even better, you can sponsor a turkey who lives at the Farm Sanctuary. For a one-time $30 adoption fee, you will receive a special Adopt-a-Turkey certificate with color photo of and fun details about your new friend, plus a Farm Sanctuary membership for one year and a one-year subscription to the Farm Sanctuary’s quarterly newsletter. For more information, visit farmsanctuary.org/giving/adopt-a-turkey/
Turkeys are known to be smart animals with personality and character. They are social, playful birds who enjoy the company of others. The ones I’ve had contact with have liked to have their feathers stroked and like to chirp, cluck, and gobble along to music! Even before I became a vegetarian 25 years ago, I always preferred the scrumptious side dishes that came along with a Thanksgiving dinner. If you pile on some extra, you won’t even know you’re missing the turkey. The president pardons a turkey every year, maybe this year you can to.
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