In 2014, VICE broke a story that uncovered a severe case of environmental racism plaguing a Black community in Bladen County, North Carolina. Since then, over 500 residents filed—and won—more than two dozen federal lawsuits against Smithfield Foods, the swine operation that stores tons of hog feces in lagoons before spraying it onto neighbors’ fields.
In the U.S., environmental racism is a widespread issue.
Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have been the center of several intersections of injustice—ranging from systemic animal cruelty, harmful working conditions for largely undocumented immigrants to the toxic environmental pollution that plagues neighboring residents. Studies corroborate the victims’ above average rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses as linked to the air pollution caused by chemical fumes from hog waste. Not to mention the water pollution caused by lagoons of pig poop leaching into the groundwater and contaminating local water with hormones, antibiotics and bacteria. The mental health affects of living near CAFOs have been reported to higher levels of depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and stress-related illness.
Of course, largely marginalized members of American society bear the brunt of the consequences for the world’s rising demand for meat. According to the EPA, “the proportions of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans statewide living within three miles of an industrial swine facility are 1.4, 1.26, and 2.39 times higher than the percentage of non-Hispanic whites, respectively.”
Still, Smithfield Foods has appealed each of the the jury’s decisions and has lost as recently as December 2020. While residents have been awarded monetary damages, Smithfield has yet to divert the toxic fumes and waste where no human, non-human animal, flora or fauna can be harmed.
The world’s rising demand for meat is the starting point for the issue.
Los Angeles Dodger Stadium alone accounted for 2.7 million hot dogs consumed in 2019. Still, it’s the systemic racism inherent in America’s founding that allows for upper class society to enjoy their hot dogs at the expense of Black families. The concept of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) makes sense to a certain degree. Nobody wants to be inhaling mircoparticles of pig feces. Choosing to keep meat off your plate makes an immediate, meaningful impact on ensuring no community is forced to endure so much suffering—for a hot dog.