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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Perhaps one of our favorite American traditions is the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. At this ceremony, the president of the U.S. is presented a live Broad Breasted White turkey. Here, the POTUS pardons the turkey from his death sentence, otherwise to be served scrumptiously next to some mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.

You know who probably really hates the turkey that got pardoned? The turkeys they end up killing to eat during the Thanksgiving meal. Seriously, every Thanksgiving the White House hosts a Thanksgiving feast, and it’s not like they don’t serve turkey. Some turkeys had to die in order for that meal to happen, and the fact that the POTUS pardons just one or two birds seems like a silly concept. Plenty of nonviolent turkeys go unpardoned in the course of the year; how these two get selected seemed a curious mystery for us here at the Alligator.

After doing some research, we found out this tradition is much more of a formal process than you would think. It turns out that turkeys, like all other birds, are really sensitive to loud noises and bright lights. Moreover, most don’t show their best decorum in big crowds. Naturally, it would be expected for these birds to be really misbehaved in a setting where many people are using flash photography to take professional photos while shouting and cheering at the act of pardoning. How is it then that these turkeys are always so well-behaved?

Turns out there is a selection process that turkeys unknowingly partake in. These turkeys are raised like all other turkeys that are eventually going to make it to the dinner table. They are fed a grain-heavy diet full of corn and soybeans, ultimately making them larger and meatier. Then, the National Turkey Federation chairperson — yes, that’s a real thing, and yes, that’s a real position for said thing — goes to their farm and selects about 80 turkeys among thousands that are trained to handle sudden movements, loud noises, flash photography, lots of people and physical interaction with those people. More interaction is given to those 80 turkeys, and then 20 of the largest and best-behaved are chosen to proceed. This process continues until only two are left. After these two are chosen, the White House staff decides what to name the little cluckers. Some of our staff’s personal favorites are “Stars and Stripes,” “Biscuits and Gravy,” “Marshmallow and Yam,” “Cobbler and Gobbler” and “Mac and Cheese.”

The rest of the turkeys among those thousands end being the star of a plate near you. Moreover, the life of a pardoned turkey isn’t that much more glamorous. In fact, most die within a year of their pardon due to health problems commonly associated with obesity. Remember how we said turkeys are fed a diet to make them super meaty? It turns out that diet is super unhealthy for turkeys and exists more to feed humans than our feathered friends.

This year, the selection process has begun. Apparently, two unnamed turkeys from Storm Lake, Iowa, will be pardoned in President Barack Obama’s last National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation in office. We here at the Alligator are beyond excited to see what their tongue-in-cheek names will be.

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