The aerial image portrays a hog farm in Duplin County, N.C., which like many others, stores liquid hog waste in cesspools to be eventually sprayed on nearby homes. Much of the American population has minimal to no knowledge about the scale and practices of the animal agriculture industry and therefore, the image helps enhance the understanding of environmental injustice in Duplin County as well as in postwar America by bringing the audience to the site from above as observers.
On September 1, 2016, as Tropical Storm Hermine was approaching North Carolina, Kemp Burdette and his colleagues from Cape Fear River Watch and Waterkeeper Alliance took a single-engine plane to survey hog farms in Duplin County with the objective of identifying environmental violations and collecting evidence. This image and the images from the same collection were produced to be presented to the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in hopes that concrete evidence would pressure the agency to act. However, the DEQ told Burdette that the GPS-stamped images did not serve as sufficient evidence for any act of violation and that they could not use proof collected by others. In addition, the DEQ does not have funds to do its own aerial surveillance and could only depend on the farms’ self-reported spray logs – ensuring that the farms would go unpunished for malpractices that negatively impact communities.
The proximity of the cesspools to the buildings that is home to hogs implies that the industry is perfectly okay with hogs swimming and potentially drowning in their own waste. Comparing the distance between those buildings and the cesspools and the distance from the cesspools and irrigation sprays to the home situated in the first quadrant of the image, it can be said with some confidence that the industry makes its best effort to not practice speciesism.
In the fourth quadrant of the image, it can be observed that the landscape is going through an unnatural pattern of balding. In other words, a patch of trees have been cut to make additional space for the farm and it is likely that when there is a need for even more space, the industry will not hesitate to focus efforts to pushing home owners away. In fact, when residents that live near hog farms complain about the detrimental consequences of how waste is managed and disposed by the farms, the industry and its supporters suggest that the residents move. However, moving is not a viable option for many as they have either financial constraints or emotional attachment to the home.
Moreover, zooming into the image to look at the home discussed earlier, it can be observed that the residents have a cesspool of their own. When considering the vicinity of the home with the irrigation spray and with some understanding about the concept of erosion, we can conclude that the liquid waste contributes to the water level of the swimming pool. The contribution does not stop there. The stench is unbearable, the mist brings out sores and propagates deadly diseases.
The image summarizes the reality of how hog farms operate in postwar America. People desire to live in healthy and positive environments and those that live in environmentally degraded areas are generally bounded there by their financial situation. Those living in the homes near the hog farm have a lower quality of life and see their health deteriorate daily. The intentional and disproportionate negligence of the industry and politicians stems from the age-old habit of quantifying the value of life based on color, gender, sexual preference and the number of legs and wings. At the beginning of every fiscal year, when the privileged sit together to do a cost benefit analysis, again and again the profits of the hog industry in the United States of America outweighs the livelihood of minorities.