It’s a beloved tradition in this country for the president to pardon a turkey on Thanksgiving. The president, as in the President of the United States. A turkey, as in the ugly bird.

This is bewildering to me.

It’s reminiscent of our nation’s other interspecies holiday tradition, Groundhog Day, when the lugubriously named Punxsutawney Phil—known to me more simply and, I think more aptly, as Punx – tells us his feelings about the national weather forecast for the next several months. To be clear, these are really just his feelings about whether the sun is out.

Have you seen the pilgrim-looking character who hauls old Punxy out of his burrow every year? You’d remember. He’s got a cool get-up—one I’d don in a heartbeat—but can you tell me why this random dude—the president of a group of Punx groupies called “The Inner Circle”—gets such an awesome job, while the Leader of the Free World gets stuck with telling a turkey, “Hey, I guess we’re not going to kill you this year… but sorry about your family.”

It’s all very backwards to me, but so is the presidential pardon in general, so I’m not without my biases.

What I really want to know is: what is so special about this turkey? Who picked it for such an honor? How is it getting off from being cooked and eaten like the rest of the turkeys? And, as importantly, does it get to ride in the president’s motorcade?

As far as I can tell, the only uniquely pardonable thing about this turkey in particular is that it is extremely fat. But wouldn’t that be a good reason to not pardon it? Shouldn’t we pardon a thin or sickly turkey instead, one that all the people would pass up at Meijer? I guess we must leave those decisions—the ones about which flightless birds will have their guilt removed and giblets spared under the law—to the courts.

Did you catch it? The flightless part? Probably not, but here’s why you should.

Turkeys can fly. It’s crazy. I didn’t know either.

The reason I—and maybe you—thought turkeys couldn’t fly is not that we are idiots; it’s that domestic turkeys, the ones we see and eat, are in fact earth-bound fatsos. They are, literally, too gargantuan to get off the ground. Only their wild counterparts know the soaring feeling of flight, wind beneath their wings, whooshing around their shriveled, witchy heads. It’s humans, then, who by taming and farming turkeys have changed their nature. We’ve fed them to the point of drastic obesity, irrevocably altering any flight plans they might have had. There must be a parable in here somewhere about shrinking wings and growing gluttony.

It is with peculiar irony that I tell you how serious this feathered obesity problem really is. See, even pardoned turkeys, while saved from the slaughterhouse, are left pretty quickly to die because of complications from their size. They’ve been fed so ferociously and grown so fat that their bodies simply can’t take living very long. Most pardoned turkeys don’t survive the year after their White House visit.

It seems also ironic that even pardoned turkeys are often named—yes, they are named—as though we were going to eat them. In 2004, the president’s main turkey was named Biscuits. Its backup—because even turkeys get understudies—was named Gravy. The following year they were named Marshmallow and Yam. The year after that, one was named Fryer. The Obama years haven’t been much better in the turkey-naming department; we’ve had Apple and Cider, Cobbler, Popcorn, and Caramel. It doesn’t seem right that a turkey is named Popcorn. It also doesn’t seem right that Popcorn died of heatstroke.

On the other hand, if the hot sun didn’t get it, a Thanksgiving deep fryer very well might have.

Happy Thanksgiving! And enjoy the dark meat!

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