Turkey Pardons (reprised)

David Cassuto

As I sat down to type some Thanksgiving thoughts, I found myself returning to what I wrote a couple of years ago, back when this blog was first beginning.  I’m still saddened and bewildered by the idea of pardoning turkeys.  And, since not many people read the blog back then, I offer those now two-year old thoughts back up again for your consideration.

Much has been said about the ritual of Thanksgiving and its accompanying slaughter of hundreds of millions of defenseless birds, most of who lived short lives of unrelenting and abject misery. I have little to add to what’s already out there except my own indignation and sorrow. But I do have something to say about the Thanksgiving ritual, particularly the embedded legal contradiction in the practice (discussed by Luis below) of pardoning turkeys.         

To pardon means “to release (a person) from further punishment for a crime.” At Thanksgiving, however, the concept of the pardon gets up-ended. The turkeys supposedly petitioning for clemency have committed no wrong. Their lives consist of brutal mistreatment with slaughter soon to follow (the latter, I might add, will occur devoid of any of the protections of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act since under Department of Agriculture regulations, birds are not “animals” and thus not legally entitled to a merciful death). If anything, egregious crimes have been wrought upon these birds. Yet, every year, one or two are selected at random and “pardoned.” This ritual amounts to transferring the guilt of the perpetrators on to the victims and then forgiving a token few of them in a bizarre act of self-absolution by proxy.

The pardon no doubt is supposed to demonstrate mercy and humor but in my view, it demonstrates neither (case in point: Sarah Palin’s now infamous video). It rather reveals a deep societal discomfort with the fact that a holiday that celebrates life’s blessings and an industry devoted to torture and death are conjoined and mutually dependent.

6 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pace Law Library, Animal Blawg. Animal Blawg said: Turkey Pardons (reprised) http://bit.ly/eGhYl9 […]

  2. “If anything, egregious crimes have been wrought upon these birds.” Yes there is much misery and suffering – So twisted to have that be the centerpiece of a celebration. I keep hoping they’ll learn in time…

    Anyway – Happy ThanksLiving Day!

  3. “bizarre act of self-absolution by proxy”

    Nicely put.

    I’ve also noted of late a clutch of do-it-yourself slaughtering articles by women, all killing a fowl of some kind, and writing in depth about their experiences. Their articles abound with their heartfelt thoughts and feelings, how they agonized over the idea of performing the slaughter, how they broke through that barrier and went ahead and killed the bird anyway. These people demonstrate what you have highlighted the pardoners as doing and what drives their little ritual. One could sum it up as “It’s all about me.” The animals for these pardoners and the DYI slaughterers are practically no more than props.

  4. Thank you, David. It brings to mind this:
    “I detect…a little bit of moral self-indulgence in these grand displays of clemency. Like America’s annual presidential turkey pardon…(it is) the modern, inverted version of the animal sacrifice: We raise a live one up to the gods, and then kill all the rest.” Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy

    I usually listen to the radio when I’m in the car, but choose to forego that at the run-up to Thanksgiving. The other day, during yet another appeal for food bank turkey donations from the classic rock station I listen to, I found myself screaming at the announcer. Radio: ” Please donate! NO ONE should be without a turkey at Thanksgiving!” Me: ” Friggin’ EVERYONE should be without a turkey at Thanksgiving, you #$%&!!! ” Not a zen moment for me.

    It struck me then (as it does nearly every day)–the enormity of the task. But for now…wishing you all a happy and gentle Thanksgiving.

  5. “The pardon no doubt is supposed to demonstrate mercy and humor but in my view, it demonstrates neither.”
    You’d be surprised how many people find it funny. Professor Cassuto, how do we flip those people? Ignorance seems to be the biggest obstacle in the animal rights movement.

    In talking about the King’s pledge Hamlet said, “it is a custom More honour’d in the breach than the observance.”

    I think we should apply this framework to Thanksgiving and leave turkeys alone. Lets not forget that turkeys suffer throughout the entire year in factory farms and not just on Thanksgiving.

    Also, to add to Kathleen’s comment above. I agree no one should have turkey on Thanksgiving or any time for that matter. I think it is interesting that the radio announcer you mentioned, appears to only care about hungry poor people on holidays and not the other 364 days of the year when the issue is more attrocious. It always sucks when good deeds become more about the act and not about the effect. But like Kathleen’s Scully quote explains, it is about self indulgence and not really about feeding the poor.

    Happy Thanksgiving

    Fur protest Friday in front of Macy’s!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    One more thing. Lackman’s (school caf) vegan stuffing was 10 times better than Whole Food’s vegan stuffing! Who would have thought?

  6. Appreciate the sentiment. As I recently explained as well, the turkey pardoning spectacle is a singularly stupid Thanksgiving tradition, insulting to man and beat alike (http://www.quiet-desperation.net/2010/11/singularly-stupid-thankgiving-tradition.html).

    Keep up the good work.

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