The recent request by PETA that the President use the term “spare” rather than “pardon” caused a bit of turmoil inside myself this morning. Their premise is that a pardon indicates guilt, and the turkey is not guilty of anything thus has no need of a pardon by anyone. Of course, the ultimate outcome for PETA would be that the tradition of our nation’s leader stop with the turkey pardoning all together.
Turkey pardoning by U.S. Presidents began 1863 when Abraham Lincoln allowed his son Tad to keep a turkey as a pet until its day to be placed on the dinner table. Tad could not bear to see his pet killed and Lincoln, so the story goes, spared the turkey.
The actual tradition as we know it today was started by President Ronald Reagan with his line, “This fine Tom Turkey has been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” It has been so ever since.
The notion of an innocent animal needing to be pardoned is one thing, the spectacle of that innocent animal receiving a thumbs up from our nation’s leader reminds me of the old world practice of men being forced into conflict in a coliseum where the emperor signals a thumbs up or down to determine the fate of each man. Perhaps it is time to move away from this tradition.
I have found myself looking at the issue of killing animals for human consumption a little more closely these days. I will not get into the debate about whether or not humans need meat to survive, but the consideration that we eat meat for the taste rather than the need is similar to why we eat sweets. The smell and taste has become an addiction of sorts (at least in some countries), and one which has also become a money making industry.
It seems that wild turkeys are extremely intelligent and self sufficient shortly after hatching. In a beautiful book by naturalist Joe Hutto, we are introduced to the world of the turkey as it matures and develops. A fascinating look at a creature native to North America, “Illumination in the Flatwoods” has been made into a film by PBS and the BBC.
As Americans we have so many choices, so many opportunities, but as part of a global community we also have an obligation to be good stewards. That includes making changes in our habits as a society as we learn more about our world and its inhabitants. We must evolve in step with our scientific knowledge if we are to live in a cooperative manner.
Does this mean we have to give up eating Turkeys? I will not engage in that dialogue at this time, but what it does mean is that we may want to consider a future that takes a lesson from the past and respects an animal’s right to be free, happy and healthy….even if part of that life includes providing sustenance to another through its demise. The Indigenous people of North America understood this gentle balance. They hunted when necessary, but only for sustenance. Killing for a profit has nothing to do with providing food for a family.
So whether you are eating turkey or tofu this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to say a prayer of thanks to the animals that are not spared or pardoned, who provide us with sustenance.