Texas A&M grad dedicating herself to all things turkey

Leslee Oden coordinates annual presidential turkey pardon while working at NTF

Leslee Oden
Leslee Oden
Texas A&M AgriLife

While spending the summer of 2009 in Washington, D.C., as an intern with the National Turkey Federation, NTF, Leslee Oden ’08 found her calling, her career path and something she is truly passionate about.

Oden is a two-time graduate of the Department of Poultry Science in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, obtaining both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Originally from Leona, she has called Washington, D.C., home for more than 14 years. While climbing the ranks of the NTF, Oden has helped to facilitate more than a dozen National Thanksgiving Turkey presentations to the president of the United States and works tirelessly on a daily basis to advocate for the U.S. turkey industry.

What do you do with the National Turkey Federation?

I’m currently the senior vice president of legislative affairs, having worked my way to this position through various legislative roles over the years. I’m responsible for guiding the federation’s legislative efforts on Capitol Hill and with the administration, along with coordinating NTF’s grassroots member outreach. In addition to day-to-day legislative duties, I have expanded my role at NTF by helping create and execute the turkey industry’s marketing program, Turkey Smoke, which is an innovative program to bring awareness and increase consumption of turkey through barbecue.

What led you to this career path?

While in school, I never really had a desire to get into politics. My goal was to go into live production with the poultry industry. After defending my master’s thesis, I had some extra time before graduating in August and an opportunity presented itself through a family friend to go to Washington, D.C., and learn more about the turkey industry. During my short, two-month internship, I realized animal agriculture advocacy and policy was where my heart was leading me. In August 2009, I fell in love with politics and the U.S. turkey industry. At the end of my internship, I made the hard decision to pivot professionally and pursue a career here.

Try calling home and telling your parents, friends and professors that you have decided to change course and move to Washington, D.C., with no job. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well at first, but they ultimately knew there was no stopping me and placed a tremendous amount of trust and belief in me. When I officially joined the NTF team, I felt right at home, and after continuous hard work, determination and incredible teammates/colleagues, I have built a wonderful career advocating on behalf of turkey growers, processors and our allied industry. 

How does the annual presidential turkey pardon work?

The NTF first presented the National Thanksgiving Turkey to former President Harry Truman in 1947. The annual presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey to the president of the United States has become a highly anticipated tradition in the nation’s capital, signaling the unofficial beginning of the holiday season and providing the president, first lady and the nation an opportunity to reflect publicly on the meaning of Thanksgiving and the bounty of American agriculture. This year’s presentation will mark the 76th anniversary of a tradition that has continued through 14 successive administrations. In recent years, the White House presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey has included the custom of “pardoning” the turkey and its alternate. Pardoning as a custom began with former President George H.W. Bush in 1989. It was the 200th anniversary of former President George Washington’s proclamation of a day of Thanksgiving. This will be my 13th presentation to help facilitate since joining NTF. It truly is an honor to play a part in making this special event happen each year.

Following the White House presentation, the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate are transported to a university where they reside under the care of veterinarians and poultry science students. I am happy to report that Chocolate and Chip, the 2022 National Thanksgiving turkeys, are living their best lives on the farm at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Caro

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