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Learning to Slaughter

This Bird’s Life

Leave the pardoning to the president. For one budding farmer, some truths are self-evident: that turkeys are stupid, dirty, and very mean.

Later this month, President Obama will step out into the White House Rose Garden and be handed a turkey. He will then proceed to pardon it, as other presidents have occasionally done, formally and informally, as far back as John F. Kennedy. This turkey, the pardon promises, will not be killed and eaten, as is the American way, but will instead go to a farm in northern Virginia or southern Maryland to live out its days alive, sentence commuted. This is our national pledge to each other: Here is an animal we will not murder, maim, or disfigure. It’s a nice gesture. It is proof we are kind and generous and humane. No judgments.

I, myself, have enjoyed many a tender turkey thigh. I also never fail to tear up with patriotic holiday sentiment when the pardon is made official and the crowd gathered together politely applauds and then disperses, heading home to deader birds. I might go so far as to say that the practice is among my favorite federal traditions: This turkey we’ve plucked, so to speak, from the poultry millions, crowning it a winner in a cruel lottery that is... Continue Reading

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