Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Culture Environment World News

The Scent of Wealth: a look into the battle against the staggering pollution caused by pig farms.


Residents of eastern North Carolina are facing severe mistreatment. This blunt statement accurately captures the grave injustice highlighted in The Smell of Money, a documentary by Shawn Bannon that exposes the harm caused by factory farming to people, animals, and the environment.

The movie documents the harmful pig waste generated by large-scale animal farms in North Carolina. This waste is then sprayed onto nearby fields, causing a noxious and harmful odor. This has significant negative effects on the health of people living in the area. Despite facing challenges such as police interference and intimidation, long-time residents like Elsie Herring and Rene Miller (who were featured in a Guardian investigation on this topic) remain determined to speak out and take action. This is particularly brave in a state where many citizens are employed by the same industry.

In the movie, Smithfield Foods is portrayed as the primary offender. This pork producer is responsible for popular products like Nathan’s Famous hotdogs and Healthy Ones cold cuts. Their slogan claims to prioritize both taste and responsibility. However, according to the documentary “The Smell of Money,” Smithfield Foods is to blame for the overcrowding of 10 million hogs on feeding farms in North Carolina. This results in over 10 billion gallons of waste, which is dumped into lagoons that emit greenhouse gases and are filled with feces. These lagoons also contribute to severe environmental damage when they overflow during natural disasters like floods or hurricanes.

Bannon expresses shock and disbelief at the situation of the predominantly Black community, whose ancestors have inhabited the same land since slavery, being slowly affected by pig waste while the US remains indifferent.

During a Zoom call with executive producer Travon Free and Bannon, Free mentions that the issue can be easily resolved if people simply pay attention. He expresses frustration at seeing the film for the first time because the solution is not complex.

We are discussing the ongoing and increasing harm caused by this problem over the course of several decades, resulting in harm to both people and the environment. Free mentions the commonly used boiling frog myth, which is often used to explain our lack of action towards important issues such as civil rights and the climate crisis. The saying suggests that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will immediately jump out, but if it is placed in lukewarm water and the temperature is gradually increased, it will not react and allow itself to be boiled to death. While this analogy may not be scientifically accurate, it still highlights the lack of response from the general public and politicians towards destructive factory farming practices and other important issues.

“It’s not constantly brought to your attention,” he explains. “It’s not making headlines. It’s not being forcefully presented to you in a significant manner. It’s simple to overlook it. Black individuals face environmental injustice throughout this entire nation, correct? However, it only holds significance for those who are directly affected. This is a small-scale example of what we see on a larger scale with issues such as climate change. It is also a flaw of human nature. We tend to prioritize what is causing us immediate discomfort, most of the time.”

Bannon and Free, both located in Los Angeles, are participating in the call from their respective homes. Bannon, who has previously worked on documentaries about factory farming and David Lowery’s films, is now making his feature debut with The Smell of Money. Free, a writer and comedian with experience on The Daily Show and an Oscar win for the short film Two Distant Strangers, is promoting Bannon’s film after being recommended by activist DeRay McKesson.

I am intrigued by the visual differences between the two collaborators and their surroundings. Bannon, from Ohio, showcases his movie collection in the background, along with a modern lounge chair and a wall-mounted expressionist painting that he created. Free, a native of Compton, wears a cap that reads “Art is dangerous” while sitting in front of a bookshelf filled with stacked books. On either side of the bookshelf are clear plastic shelves containing hundreds of Nike sneakers, mostly Jordans.

Bannon and Free appear worlds apart. That just speaks to how this film tends to bring together a diverse array of bedfellows. Joan Jett and Joaquin Phoenix and his partner, Rooney Mara (sister to executive producer Kate Mara), are among the big names who hosted The Smell Of Money screenings over the past week to get the message out. “It’s a lot of very antisocial people,” says Bannon, having a laugh at the makeup of the team corralled around him.

The film’s various supporters reflect the overlap of activism, including concerns for the environment, animal welfare, and human rights, that are addressed in The Smell of Money. Despite having a narrative that appeals to multiple groups and potential donors with similar causes, Bannon faced difficulties in securing funding to convey his message effectively. He discovered that many of his allies were primarily interested in their own agendas, wanting their perspectives to take precedence.

Executive producer David Lowery, actors Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara, and executive producer Travon Free attend a Los Angeles screening of The Smell Of Money

Bannon explains that he distanced himself from potential collaborators who believed they had a right to control the narrative and dictate how it should be presented. He admits to having to directly confront people and tell them to leave him alone because of their overly assertive behavior. He acknowledges that he probably should not be sharing this information in an interview, but he is feeling energized and passionate at the moment.

He acknowledges his producers for supporting his efforts to safeguard the story that Elsie and Renee entrusted him with, even though they took a great risk in sharing it. He stood firm in not altering their words, avoiding falling into the trap of the industry that would minimize their role and portray the lawyers and organizations helping them as white saviors. He also did not allow wealthy donors to turn the issue into a self-serving project, as is often the case with charitable actions, according to Free.

Free states that he dislikes the attention-seeking behavior of individuals who donate to charity events in New York or Los Angeles. He criticizes the fact that a large amount of money is often not directed towards those who are most in need.

He supports the idea of direct injection, envisioning the impact it could have if one of the United States’ 700+ billionaires were to directly address an issue, such as providing $100,000 to help cover Rene Miller’s medical expenses as she uses a nebulizer to treat her asthma.

“I have the ability to use a small fraction of my wealth, 0.01%, and greatly impact their lives,” Free states as they contemplate their decision. “Alternatively, I could advise Shawn on how to produce his film.”

  • The film “The Smell of Money” is currently showing in specific theaters in LA and will be available in New York starting October 20th. The release date for the UK is yet to be announced.

Source: theguardian.com