10/25/2012 03:10 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

Letter to Obama: About That Turkey Pardon


Dear Mr. President:

November is upon us, it's an election year, and I know you're probably a little busy being in the global spotlight and all. But, still, I have to ask -- about that turkey pardon.

I know, I know, it's been a light-hearted White House Thanksgiving tradition since maybe Truman (though it seems the Truman Library can't prove it started with him), or possibly even Lincoln, whose son Tad apparently had a beloved pet turkey -- which makes sense, because turkeys are actually very smart, friendly animals. Some say Kennedy granted the first turkey pardon, others say the first Bush.

But, whenever this ritual started, Mr. President, times have changed, and now we know better.

First of all, it simply doesn't make sense. A pardon is for someone who did something wrong and needs forgiveness, right? Well, these poor turkeys are not the wrongdoers, but the done-wronged.

For turkeys on a factory farm, life means being genetically modified to grow so massive so quickly that they can no longer fly or often even walk, being de-beaked and de-toed without anesthesia, then slaughtered at just 16 weeks old. As best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer writes, "All but a negligible number of the 45 million turkeys that find their way to our Thanksgiving tables were unhealthy, unhappy and -- this is a radical understatement -- unloved."

So, really, pardoning the turkey is like forgiving the victim -- it's just backwards.

Secondly, I'm sorry to say, the time has passed when we can call a traditional turkey dinner healthy or earth-friendly. Healthwise, American turkeys contain an unnatural amount of fat to "taste better" (yes, even the "free range" ones -- and "free range" usually means packed into a huge barn with one small door, instead of tiny metal cages). As for the environment, factory farming contributes more to global pollution -- air, soil and water -- than all of our transportation industries combined.

You've got Michelle working on this American health issue -- and Drs. Campbell, Ornish, Barnard and Esselstyn back it up with the medical research: We've got to shift our country's dietary traditions toward plant-based if we want to take the stress off this health care system we're all arguing about. We've also got to stop those animal agriculture subsidies to have any chance of saving our oceans and stopping global warming (but that's another letter... ).

Back to Thanksgiving: OK, seriously, turkey as the centerpiece is going out like MySpace with the growing number of health-conscious, socially-conscious veg-types among us (across party lines, by the way). Our Thanksgiving tables will instead be filled with yummy, seasonal foods grown organically from the earth -- which is actually more like the Native Americans ate anyway. Historical records show at least one Thanksgiving feast, that of the Timucua Indians and the early American settlers, had a main dish of bean soup -- so the "upholding tradition" argument can really be re-thought anyway.

Ask your pal Bill Clinton what will be on his family's vegan table this Thanksgiving -- I'm betting something like roasted acorn squash stuffed with cranberries, walnuts and rice; sauteed kale, red peppers and green beans with slivered almonds; animal-free mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy; and pumpkin pie with coconut whipped cream. Let's promote that kind of delicious, healthier, American, seasonal meal, instead of one centered on fatty bird meat and butter. And, everyone will actually feel good after they eat it!

Lastly, Mr. President, you said it yourself when you pardoned one turkey, who is now roaming around Mount Vernon -- you didn't want her to be "shellacked." She is a living thing, with a mother, perhaps a mother herself (and turkeys do bond with their poults), who feels fear and pain, and doesn't want to die. When you actually look that bird in the eye, do you really want to kill her, or others like her? (It seems, perhaps, you listened to your wise daughters, who didn't want to harm the poor creatures.)

You've spoken so eloquently about compassion and non-violence. And I believe your own words and actions point to a deep-down belief that we must base our every choice in compassion for all living things -- like your heroes Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. (whose widow Coretta Scott King was vegan, as is their son Dexter, by the way). With true compassion driving us, so much transformative good is possible.

We can all enjoy our Thanksgiving, with our loved ones, without putting turkeys on the chopping block. We can support American tradition without supporting the factory farm system that is causing suffering of our health, our planet and millions of animals.

As Foer also writes: "We can't plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?"

So, please, Mr. President -- about that turkey pardon. Can we just drop that charade this year? Can you announce that all of the 30 turkeys who "compete" for the pardon won't be killed? Can you instead send them to farm sanctuaries, and invite the Clintons over to their old dining room to give thanks around a plant-based feast with you? Can you take a stand here for health, compassion, our planet, and a new kind of American tradition?

I've asked some of my friends to sign this Stop The White House Turkey Pardon petition (just as the Farm Animal Rights Movement did last year with over 2,700 of their friends), so you can see that there are lots of us who hope you can take just a moment of your time to change this outdated ritual. Stand up for the turkeys -- for the idea that every living being matters.

And then go ahead and get back to, you know, whatever else is on your plate this November.


Megan the Vegan, a loyal voter