Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial

Knopf. Jun. 2022. 464p. ISBN 9780593320822. $30. CRIME
Addison (A Harvest of Thorns) explores a most unusual story of litigation. Eastern North Carolina is home to a large number of pork producers, including Smithfield Foods. The pigs on these farms generate waste, which farmers dump into clay-lined cesspools (called “lagoons”) or spray onto fields; the resulting smell creates unlivable conditions for neighbors. Addison examines the ultimately successful nuisance lawsuits brought against Smithfield. Focusing on the plaintiffs’ perspective, he combs through court records, conducts interviews to discern the impact on residents, and provides a play-by-play of three trials that argued that Smithfield’s waste disposal practices prevented residents from enjoying their property. His exploration of the history of hog farming in North Carolina sheds light on the evolution of this problem. Addison details efforts by lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly to protect Smithfield as well as lobbying efforts by pork interest groups—indeed, the influence of lawmakers, lawyers, and money echoes throughout. Addison also emphasizes the racial divide between the Black residents affected by hog waste and the white corporate leadership. Injecting a human touch into what could be a dry subject, he weaves together the personal and political for an exploration of the human impact of corporate greed.
VERDICT A highly readable tale of underdogs who took on a mega-corporation and won.
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