Along a pastoral lane at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate sits a sizable wooden pen built specifically to house the two turkeys that will be “pardoned” at the White House on Wednesday.
The well-appointed pen includes a small coop to protect them from weather and foxes, and an area for them to strut their stuff for camera-toting tourists.
But there is one thing that is missing: other turkeys. That’s because all the turkeys ever pardoned at the White House are dead, including the six already given a pass from the roasting pan by President Barack Obama in previous years.
“The bird is bred for the table, not for longevity,” said Dean Norton, the director at Mount Vernon in charge of livestock. “Some of [the pardoned turkeys] have been pretty short lived.”
Compared to domesticated animals, turkeys bred for consumption are usually plump and slaughtered after a period of months, and wouldn’t be expected to live much longer on their own. So, a pardon really can extend their lives a lot, relatively speaking.
Starting in 1960, farmers specifically started breeding plump turkeys that had large amounts of white breast meat — a response to American demand. The differences between wild and bred turkeys, Williams said, stems mostly from diet.
“A turkey that is bred exclusively for eating, eats corn and soybean that have minerals in them,” Williams said.
According to the federation, a whopping 219 million turkeys were consumed in the United States in 2011. On Thanksgiving that year, the group estimates 46 million were gobbled up.
Since 1970, around the time breeding practices changed, turkey consumption has increased 104 percent, according to the federation…
…The practice of pardoning a turkey at the White House dates to Abraham Lincoln.
The story goes that around Thanksgiving, turkeys were brought to the White House and Lincoln’s son, Tad, grew attached to one particular bird and begged his chief executive father to spare the fowl from the table. Lincoln agreed and the turkey lived.
It is unclear if the practice continued for the next 100 years. But in 1963, President John F. Kennedy decided to send his turkey back to the farm it came from, telling the National Turkey Federation they should “just let this one grow” instead.
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