If you can’t eat ‘em, free ‘em.
President Joe Biden is scheduled to pardon the first turkeys of his presidency on Friday, granting clemency to “Peanut Butter” and “Jelly” and officially sparing them a trip to the White House kitchen.
But what happens to these pardoned turkeys after they leave the White House?
Historically, the pardoned turkeys have been shipped off to “a variety of places,” according to Beth Breeding, a representative of the National Turkey Federation.
The National Turkey Federation, or NFT, has supplied turkeys for the White House’s annual Turkey Day festivities since 1947. That year, the Truman administration encouraged Americans to partake in “poultryless Thursdays” to conserve grain, but soon faced backlash from the poultry industry — who pointed out that Thanksgiving takes place on Thursdays. After ditching its promotion of “poultryless Thursdays,” the Truman administration accepted its first turkey from the NFT “and established an annual news niche that endures today,” according to the White House Historical Association.
The Truman Library & Museum says President Truman was not the first president to pardon a turkey. Historians instead say Kennedy came close in 1963 when he sent back a turkey after that year’s ceremonial presentation (“Let’s keep him going,” Kennedy reportedly said), although he stopped short of issuing an official presidential pardon, or using the word “pardon” at all.
Patricia Nixon and Rosalyn Carter also sent some of their birds away, to a farm and a mini zoo, respectively. Soon enough, sending turkeys to live out their days on a farm “became the norm” under President Reagan, though none of these birds were ever officially pardoned.
That all changed In 1989, during George H.W. Bush’s first year in office. Bush, remarking on the presence of nearby animal activists, said during his remarks that the bird before him wouldn’t be eaten.
“But let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy — he’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now — and allow him to live out his days on a children’s farm not far from here,” the president said, per the White House Historical Association.
Many of the turkeys pardoned in the following years were sent to the nearby Frying Pan Farm Park in Fairfax County, Virginia. But in 2005, President George W. Bush announced that the turkeys he pardoned would be headed off to live at Disneyland, where they would serve as grand marshals of the park’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Marshmallow and Yam were a little skeptical about going to a place called Frying Pan Park,” Bush joked at the 2005 ceremony.
Birds pardoned at the White House in later years have also been flown to Disney World to live out their natural lives, and, yes, appear in the parade.
Others have been shipped to George Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon, though this practice was discontinued by 2013 because George Washington never had turkeys at Mount Vernon, and therefore wouldn’t give a “historically accurate” impression to visitors, CNN once reported. Pardoned turkeys in the following years were sent to live on the estate of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis in Leesburg.
These days, the pardoned turkeys are sent off to universities of higher education — first Virginia Tech, and then Iowa State University — where they have served as study subjects for students in animal sciences programs.
Peanut Butter and Jelly, too, will go off to live at an educational facility at Perdue, not far from where they were raised in Indiana. The two turkeys will also have access to a “shaded grassy area” at the school, according to Purdue Agriculture.
“They will receive excellent care from veterinarians, faculty and students in the Department of Animal Sciences,” said a spokesperson for the National Turkey Federation.
No matter where they go, however, it likely won’t be better than their accommodations in Washington D.C. Prior to their pardoning, Peanut Butter and Jelly — like many pardoned turkeys before them — were treated to a stay at the Willard InterContinental in downtown D.C.
“Our VIP guests … seems like they slept very well,” joked Ernie Arias, the director of sales and marketing at the hotel during a welcoming ceremony on Thursday. “They had their bath, and I understand from our staff that they actually ordered in-room dining.”