Turkey pardoning: Where do they go?


Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

Give Peas a chance. Peas, the winner of the 2018 Turkey Pardon, poses in front of the White House.

Every year the president chooses a few lucky turkeys to be pardoned. This year after this honor was given to two turkeys: Peas and Carrots. The President pardoned them on November 21st and they will go on to live out the rest of their turkey-lives on a Virginia farm.

Each year the president was gifted a turkey, what they chose to do with it was entirely up to them, this gifting has since grown into the annual turkey pardoning that we see today. But it wasn’t always like that.

The annual turkey pardon has only been around since 1989 with George H.W Bush celebrating his first Thanksgiving in the White House with the pardon, but much of the tradition dates back to the 1940s. It is said that the tradition really began with the Truman administration, after a lobbying campaign; Truman began promoting “Meatless Tuesdays” and “Poultry-less Thursdays” in 1947, in an effort to conserve grain for foreign aid campaigns. These restrictions quickly irritated the American people, especially with Thanksgiving falling on a Thursday, and eventually, the National Poultry and Egg board and Truman reached a truce: “Eggless Thursdays.”

From its origin as a national outcry against meat and poultry rations, it grew into a campy joke with various Presidents sparing a turkey here and there. President John F. Kennedy famously pardoned a 55-pound turkey saying, “we’ll let this one grow.” Nixon and Carter both spared a few turkeys during their terms but didn’t publicize the acts of kindness.

While Ronald Reagan never officially declared the pardon a tradition, he was the first to draw attention to the event. It was during the 1987 Iran-Contra affair when asked about pardoning Oliver North, Reagan instead responded with the pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey as a joke, in hopes to divert attention. And the rest is history.

As for why they call it a “pardon,” that tradition comes from George H.W Bush’s very first pardoning: his speechwriter is responsible for the term.

The Turkey Pardon may seem like a fun way to celebrate the holiday season, but some students have raised a few concerns: “Frankly, I think that American pardoning just one turkey is useless since we’re eating millions.” says senior, Alaina Bekebrede. Senior Peyton Butler also had a similar thought saying, “So many turkeys die anyways that what’s it really doing? What’s the point.”

Whether you love the compassion of the turkey pardon or think of it as a useless custom, the turkey pardon certainly has some interesting history.