By the end of the twentieth century, hog farming had replaced tobacco as the backbone of eastern North Carolina’s economy. Today, the hog industry is a source of both contention and pride in the area. In rural Duplin County, the home of Smithfield Foods, hogs outnumber people 40 to 1.

Duplin County native Elsie Herring advocates for environmental justice on behalf of her community. Photo courtesy of Civil Eats.

Open-air lagoons store massive amounts of hog waste, which is then sprayed over the surrounding fields as fertilizer. For decades, residents have claimed that these waste management practices cause a host of health issues, environmental harm, and loss of property value.

Reporter-producer Otis Gray travels to Duplin County, where a group of concerned citizens believes that industrial hog farms disproportionately affect low-income communities of color. Residents and activists have now filed a civil rights complaint with the EPA, and they hope that their voices will be heard.

Otis Gray is a storyteller and radio producer from rural Vermont. He is host & producer of the Hungry podcast, a show about food, the stories behind it, and the power of what we eat in a polarized world.

Credits and Resources:

Explore the links to learn more about the organizations and issues discussed in this episode of Gravy.

Duplin REACH (Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help)

The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network

Waterkeeper Alliance

Whole Hog: The Power of Pork (a multimedia project from the UNC-Chapel Hill school of Journalism.)

“Environmental injustice in North Carolina’s hog industry.” (a study from the department of epidemiology at the UNC-Chapel Hill school of Public Health.)

Smithfield Foods