A Tale of Two World Records in the Same State

Marla Rose
5 min readApr 5, 2024


I have this email thing set up to get Google Alerts when there are specific words that are in the news — vegan and plant-based are two examples — so I get a range of items from a variety of sources whenever they pop up. Last week, Google Alerts, um, alerted me to a story about the world’s largest plant-based smokehouse, which is a business called Barvecue in Cornelius, North Carolina. Clicking on the link took me to the website of a “world record certifying organization,” which is I guess like Guinness World Records but more about certifying than recording. (Want to build the world’s biggest vegan meatball sub? One of their agents will certify it…for a cost.) I read the article and watched the little video. They were both pretty sweet! Then at the bottom of the page, there was a link to a different “largest” entry in North Carolina that had been certified by their adjudicator: The world’s largest pork processing plant.

Tar Heel, which is home to a Smithfield Foods facility, is a distance of 166.29 miles (267.62 km) or two hours and 48 minutes, from Barvecue in Cornelius across US-74 W in North Carolina. A few more factoids: the plant-based smokehouse has a 10,000-square foot facility that can scale up to producing 800,000 pounds of their wood-smoked soy barbecue each year. In contrast, Smithfield, as the world’s largest hog processing plant, is nearly one million square feet, the size of nearly 100 football fields, slaughtering 32,000 pigs a day and producing eight million pounds of pig meat a day.

Of these two world’s largest facilities in North Carolina, Barvecue, founded in 2017, is a certified B-corporation, which is a status that designates businesses that meet high standards of verified social and environmental performance, as well as public transparency and legal accountability for balancing profit and purpose. Smithfield, founded in 1936, was purchased in 2013 by China’s largest meat producer, WH Group, for $4.72 billion, which included the company’s 146,000 acres of farmed land, making the new buyers one of the largest overseas owners of U.S. land. Smithfield pioneered “vertical integration,” which is another way of saying that they bought many competing hog-farming operations and businesses, allowing them to control every stage of production from conception to packing, a system called “from squeal to meal” that put smaller farms that couldn’t handle thousands of pigs out of business.

I am fairly sure that while every business that manufactures something has some kind of an ecological footprint, Barvecue does not have manure lagoons as their products are made with their patented blend of whole soybeans and locally grown sweet potatoes mixed with seasonings. There are no animals in their product to produce waste. Smithfield, on the other hand, stores untreated animal waste in unlined, open lagoons before it is sprayed on area cropland, contaminating the air, soil and groundwater. According to Waterkeeper Alliance, Smithfield’s decision to not change their waste management practices leads to more methane production, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more harmful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period, than it would with more responsible methods of waste treatment. It is estimated that of the nine million pigs in North Carolina, most are born and slaughtered through Smithfield contractors and generate 10 billion pounds of waste each year in the state alone.

I couldn’t find any news stories about Barvecue causing ecological harm, but there are loads of them about Smithfield, which has been fined for thousands of violations to the Clean Water Act for illegal waste dumps into North Carolina’s Pagan River as well as numerous massive fecal lagoon breaches after hurricanes Floyd and Florence. A complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission by the Food & Water Watch nonprofit accuses Smithfield of deceptive sustainability claims, citing the example of their “bio-gas” (biogas), which the $16 billion revenue company is utilizing as yet another revenue stream, using what are called digesters to capture the fecal waste gasses their facilities produce and convert it into fossil fuel gasses that will be refined and burned, further polluting and warming the planet while earning more money. They are even making money from the toxic gasses they create. In recent years, Smithfield lost five cases brought about by North Carolinians experiencing asthma, headaches, nausea and more due to the air and groundwater pollutants caused by their operations and waste lagoons.

At Barvecue, the plants are grown, picked and delivered to their facility and then the seasoned plant protein blend is mixed, spread on trays, smoked and packaged for distribution. At Smithfield, pigs that have been tattooed and raised their whole lives in pens are trucked to the facility at about five to six months of age, then gassed, slaughtered, the exteriors of the carcasses are cleaned, the organs are removed, the cavities are cleaned and they are hung on a line for inspection by 10 USDA in-house inspectors for the 32,000 pigs slaughtered each day at the one facility. The hanging carcasses chill in the cooler overnight, are then cut, the cuts are cooled and finally boxed up for trucks. The world’s largest plant-based smokehouse in Cornelius is proud of the unique pecan and applewood blend in their smokers. The world’s largest pig processing plant in Tar Heel draws attention to their robotic carcass splitters.

Full-time Barvecue staff receive medical, vision and dental insurance, a four-day work week, competitive compensation and paid time off and holidays. The Smithfield plant across the state is famous for a nearly 15-year dispute between the company and the workers who tried to organize a union, arresting union supporters with their own deputized “company police” force. Smithfield is further cited in the Human Rights Watch 2005 report, Blood, Sweat and Tears about workers’ rights being under threat at U.S. meat production plants, followed up in 2019 with When We’re Dead and Buried, Our Bones Will Keep Hurting, which found that “alarmingly high rates of serious injury and chronic illness” have not been abated with the increased mechanization of slaughter and processing facilities like Smithfield.

You all, I am depressing myself at this point so I am going to stop. You get the point. Barvecue and Smithfield Foods are just over 166 miles from each other but, by virtually every other metric, millions and millions of miles apart.

Marla Rose is cofounder of VeganStreet.com.