REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE
PLAIN LANGUAGE-TURKEY AWARD
Tuesday, November 24, 1998
I am delighted to be here today, to present our fifth Plain Language Award
-- continuing our crusade to reinvent government by putting our
communications into everyday language that anyone can understand. And today
we're making an important web site simpler, so millions of Americans can
enjoy this Thanksgiving holiday with safety and peace of mind.
Later this afternoon, President Clinton will continue a tradition of holiday
clemency that reaches all the way back to President Truman. He will conduct
a Thanksgiving "turkey pardon" -- freeing a turkey that will then retire to
a petting zoo in Virginia, where it can gobble away for the rest of its
And while this one turkey is pardonable, confusing language in government
rules, regulations, and writings about food safety is not.
When it comes to all government communication, the principles of plain
language are clear. Short is better than long. Active is better than
passive. Everyday terms are better than technical terms. And clarity is
better than gobbledygook.
This isn't just about good writing, it is about good government, and
redeeming the promise of our democracy. Clear writing helps to create
understanding and trust -- and trust is essential to people's faith in their
own self-government. When it comes to something as critical as food safety,
plain language is also a matter of good health. It can even save lives.
That is why the turkey you see posted beside me takes on a double meaning.
Today's award is about making Thanksgiving safer, by getting rid of the
gobbledygook in the cooking advice we provide to Americans. With Americans
getting ready to consume 45 million turkeys this week, I'm sure you'll agree
that this is serious business.
Until very recently, the USDA web site that provides information on safe
turkey and stuffing preparation read as follows: "if stuffing a turkey, use
a meat thermometer." Instantly, I wonder -- if I've been using a spoon,
have I been doing something horribly wrong?
It then goes on to say: "Cooking a home-stuffed turkey can be somewhat
riskier than cooking one not stuffed. Bacteria can survive in stuffing
which has not reached the safe temperature of 165* F, possibly resulting in
foodborne illness. Even if the turkey itself has reached the proper internal
temperature of 180* F, in the innermost part of the thigh, the stuffing may
not have reached a temperature in all parts of the stuffing sufficient to
destroy foodborne bacteria. If stuffing does not reach 165* F when the
turkey itself is done to 180* F, further cooking will be required...
... During the added cooking necessary to bring the stuffing up to a safe
temperature, the meat may become overcooked."
By that point, I'm ready to say, "I'll pass on the stuffing, please" -- or
at the very least, steel myself for some overcooked turkey. Only after two
dense and dire paragraphs do we get to the real point -- that it's much
safer and easier to simply cook the stuffing separately.
That's why the new, plainer web site begins at the beginning. It reads:
"Here are the most important things to remember about stuffing. Cook the
stuffing separately -- it's much safer! If you absolutely have to cook the
stuffing in the turkey, use a thermometer to make sure the stuffing reaches
a temperature of 165* F and the turkey reaches a temperature of 180* F in
the innermost part of the thigh. Measure the temperature of both the turkey
and the stuffing! Don't trust a pop-up indicator. "
Checking the temperature -- that's what the meat thermometer is for. Your
federal government was never suggesting that you use a meat thermometer as a
We have Bessie Berry to thank for this new simplicity and clarity. Bessie
is the Branch Chief of the Meat and Poultry Hotline at USDA, where they
handle 130,000 phone calls a year -- mostly at Thanksgiving time, and often
from panicked people asking about safe food handling. You may have read
about her team in last Sunday's Washington Post.
This is actually not the first time Bessie and I have met -- we met at our
food safety event right before the Fourth of July. Bessie showed me how to
follow safe barbeque procedures. Today, I am proud to return the favor, and
present Bessie with this richly deserved "No Gobbledygook." award. [present
Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends -- a time to reflect on our
many blessings, and enjoy one of the most traditional holiday feasts.
Because of the principles of plain language -- and because of the dedication
of Bessie Smith and her colleagues at USDA -- America's meals will be safer,
because our language will be clearer. That's something for which we can all
be thankful this holiday season.