Turkeys named Peanut Butter and Jelly receive White House ‘pardon’ in Thanksgiving tradition

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and many Americans are eagerly awaiting sitting down for dinner with their families to celebrate. But while it’s an exciting week for humans, it’s a dreadful one for turkeys.

Every year, an estimated 45 to 46 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving — but every year, some are spared, thanks to a pardon from the US government.

It’s been a time-honored tradition for decades for the US president to hold a “turkey pardoning” ceremony ahead of Thanksgiving, and the lighthearted annual ceremony returned today as President Joe Biden spared two turkeys from the dinner plate.

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 18: Two turkeys named Peanut Butter and Jelly are presented on November 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. They will be pardoned by the U.S. president for the 2021 Thanksgiving Day. (Photo by Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images)

Peanut Butter & Jelly

The two lucky turkeys this year are named Peanut Butter and Jelly (Jelly is technically Peanut Butter’s alternate, though both get spared). They were raised by Andrea Welp in Jasper, Indiana.

“With another year of uncertainties with the pandemic, this project has really been something to look forward to, and has been a joy to be able to participate in,” Welp said at a press conference.

The pardon recipients are chosen by the National Federation of Turkeys chair, and they get elevated to VIP status. As in previous years, the turkeys were put in the five-star Willard Hotel in Washington DC.

“We do some extra prep to the room to make sure it’s comfortable for them, putting down shavings and making sure their food and water is accessible,” Beth Breeding, the spokesperson for the National Turkey Federation, told ABC News.

“We do our best to make sure that we leave the room cleaner than we even found it. We clean up afterwards and then we also work with the hotel to make sure the room is cleaned.”

White House ceremony

After receiving the luxury treatment, it was time for the turkeys’ starring moment at the official National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation, held this afternoon.

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 19: U.S. President Joe Biden pardons Peanut Butter the turkey during the 74th annual Thanksgiving turkey pardoning in the Rose Garden of the White House on November 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. The 2021 National Thanksgiving Turkey, Peanut Butter, and alternate Jelly, were raised in Jasper, Indiana and will reside on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, after today’s presentation. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It marked the first turkey pardoning for President Biden. As in previous years, the ceremony was a lighthearted affair, filled with references to political current affairs mixed with turkey puns. “Instead of getting basted, these turkeys are getting boosted,” Biden said.

“Turkey is infrastructure. Peanut Butter and Jelly are going to help build back the butterball.”

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 19: Turkeys, Peanut Butter and Jelly, wait for U.S. President Joe Biden during the 74th annual Thanksgiving turkey pardoning in the Rose Garden of the White House on November 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. Peanut Butter and Jelly were raised in Jasper, Indiana, and will reside on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, after today’s ceremony. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The president also acknowledged that the holiday would be a return to normalcy for many Americans, who were in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic this time last year.

“It’s important to continue traditions like this to remind us how from the darkness, there’s light and hope and progress — and that’s what this year’s Thanksgiving, in my view, represents,” he said. “Many of us will be gathering with our loved ones for the first time in a long time. And we’ll be reconnecting with traditions, with our tables and our hearts full of grace and gratitude for everyone who made it possible.”

Meanwhile, Peanut Butter and Jelly were just grateful to be alive.

New life at Purdue

So what’s next for Peanut Butter and Jelly? They will be given sanctuary at Purdue University’s Department of Animal Sciences in the College of Agriculture. The university says they will receive good care with their own private enclosure, while also providing a valuable resource to students.

“Although turkeys are an important American cultural tradition, most people do not know much about turkey production and management, so this is an amazing chance for us to increase awareness and knowledge of turkeys’ behavior, personalities and welfare,” Dr. Marisa Erasmus co-advisor of the Purdue Poultry Club, said in a statement.

“The turkeys will provide a great resource for students to learn more about the poultry industry and about policies that impact poultry production,” added co-advisor Dr. Greg Fraley.

National turkeys 2021 (Purdue University photo/Tom Campbell)

History of the turkey pardon

The National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation is a tradition that dates back to the 1940s, however, the “pardon” wasn’t always part of the custom.

Many presidents, including Eisenhower and Truman, did in fact eat their turkeys, although others spared their lives, including Jimmy Carter and John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy, presented with a turkey that said “Good eating, Mr. President!” spontaneously opted to spare the bird — three days before his assassination in 1963.

Public Domain

Ronald Reagan formally “pardoned” his turkeys, and his predecessor, George H.W. Bush made it the annual custom every president has followed since.

Congratulations to Peanut Butter and Jelly on their presidential pardon! We hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your lives, safe from the oven.

Happy Thanksgiving! 🦃❤️ Share this story if you love animals!

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