Actor Kate Mara has executively produced a documentary that shines a light on the environmental racism of factory farming.
The Smell of Money exposes the societal impacts endured by the predominantly Black community of Duplin County in North Carolina.
Showcased as the villain of the story is meat production behemoth, Smithfield. The manufacturer has operated an industrial hog farm in the region for years and seemingly demonstrates little regard for residents’ health.
Coined by Big Pork, “the smell of money” describes the stench of pig feces that lingers in the air in eastern North Carolina.
A platform for equality
The film sees Duplin County resident Elsie Herring and others discuss the negative impact of living close to Smithfield.
Most pertinently, it exposes the inequality of a white-owned business directly lessening the quality of life for neighboring Black communities. It has done so by simply buying land and setting up shop.
Residents discuss their restricted access to clean air and clean water, with nobody being willing to help. Homes are persistently covered in excrement, while residents breathe in particles of polluted air. This leads to serious respiratory complications.
“They don’t care because we Black. We’re back up in the country and I just hope my house don’t get burnt up tonight from talking to you,” says one resident in the emotive trailer.
A combined passion for animal rights and human advocacy motivated Mara to produce the documentary.
“We hope the film infuriates people for the factory farming industry’s blatant disregard for animal and environmental welfare, and for the underserved communities in which the industry sets up shop and destroys their way of life,” she said in a statement.
“We cannot continue with our current food system and ignore the environmental racism that plagues these communities.”
Smithfield’s persistent transgressions
The pork giant has faced calls for accountability on numerous occasions. Juries have ruled in residents’ favor on multiple federal nuisance lawsuits. Though punitive damages were reduced.
State law caps damages at $98 million. This is a stark reduction from the $550 million that was awarded to 36 plaintiffs in 2018 and 2019.
During the legal battles, it was noted that Smithfield had largely ignored residents’ concerns due to a perceived lack of political influence. Judge Harvie Wilkinson III gave credence to suggestions of environmental racism. He suggested that had residents lived in “McMansions,” they would have been unlikely to have shared air with a commercial pig rearing facility.
Smithfield has also reneged on promises to invest in better pig waste management systems. The pork producer pledged to avoid building new slurry lagoons and to remove existing pools. Twenty years later, they are still present.
Animal agriculture contributes significantly to the climate emergency. According to the United Nations, it contributes 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
But its impact is sometimes overlooked.
Mara’s film places the focus firmly on the residents of Duplin County. It gives them the voice they have been denied for decades.
Screenings and accolades
The Smell of Money is enjoying critical acclaim. It was first screened at the Sarasota Film Festival in April 2022.
The Mindful Eating Film and Food Festival will show the film in August, with Mara in attendance for interviews. Rancho Compasión, a farm animal sanctuary owned by vegan dairy innovator Miyoko Schinner, organizes the festival every year.
It will also show The End of Medicine, a documentary produced by Mara’s sister Rooney Mara and her partner Joaquin Phoenix.