Gustavo Duch is a writer and editor of Food Sovereignty magazine. In this interview, he tackles a range of questions as deep as they are urgent: the myth of progress, the return to the countryside, peasant wisdom, the energy transition and false solutions to the climate crisis. “The properly understood rural is the greatest challenge of capitalism“, it is said.
Gustavo Duch (Barcelona, 1965) is one of those who, at the end of the 1980s, founded Veterinarios Sin Fronteras. Her dedication is to thinking and acting on rural culture and how it challenges capitalist culture. Today he works in a cooperative team, El Pa Sencer, made up of four people who, among other projects, produce the magazine Food sovereignty, collaborate with Micropobles, an entity that organizes 250 municipalities in Catalonia with less than 500 inhabitants and is part of Alterbanc, an alternative food bank committed to guaranteeing access to healthy and organic food for vulnerable families. A significant part of his life takes place in a small town, he takes care of an orchard, a few chickens and tries to participate as much as possible in the rural experience. He is a regular contributor to CTXT.
He recently published the book Tales of progress. conversations with the pastor (Pol·len, La Floresta, Catalonia, 2021) and with this excuse we spoke to him.
—You are a veterinarian, an activist and you write literary texts, why?
—I started writing encouraged by Arcadi Oliveres. It surprised me that the explanations that Arcadi and other people gave us in shared spaces, like the Catalan Federation of NGOs, did not reach the mainstream media, that most people did not have the possibility of knowing their visions. I insisted to Arcadi that I had to write and he challenged me to do it myself. Shortly after, I realized that what we were thinking about or proposing could not only appeal to data, to cognitive. You had to touch the heart, touch the skin. Things come first through the heart, then come the fights.
—Why did you focus your work on rural areas?
“I was a boy with a people. I have always spent the summer there, but it was the work in the field of development cooperation that led me to recognize its values. I was able to witness the first years of the birth of the Vía Campesina and the demands around Food Sovereignty. This whole movement connected me with the relationship that is established between peasant men and women and their territories. In fact, it connected me with my rural self, and from there the ethical and political values associated with them were awakened. When the emotional bond with the river or the bees acquires a political dimension, something very strong explodes in our bodies. I can’t help but discover political messages when I talk to pastors or work in the garden.
—Is that why your latest book, stories of progress, arises like a dialogue with a shepherd? Why shepherds?
“And the shepherdesses.” Because, as the poet said, we are not living in a time of change, we are living in a change of era and we must ask ourselves the big questions and seek answers. The shepherd represents someone who lives in contact with nature, in fact he sleeps outside. These are people who have been marginalized from society, that is, they already have a kind of refugee, something that will soon happen to all of us. They are in transhumance, in constant migration, and now that we are going to migrate from one civilization to another, their gaze is essential. When I deal with them, I find inspiring this mixture of tenderness coated with bad humor, the use of humor to convey wisdom…
—At one point in your book you say: “Meteorology, like all sciences, says that it helps us to progress, but is it progress to stop interpreting the sky?”
— Here, I want to question the myth of progress in its symbolic dimension. Science can help, of course, but we have lost the virtue of looking and knowing how to interpret what the sky is telling us. Delegating and losing this knowledge disconnects us from Nature and establishes an anthropocentrism that makes us believe that there is an answer to everything.
—You also wonder if in front of whom it falls it would not be easier to stop innovating…
—Shepherds never stop inventing and engineering, but in their trajectories they know how to put limits to these advances. For example, if they have more sheep than they can handle, before solving the problem with a “technological breakthrough”, they seek out another shepherd who, in turn, will make the care of that flock their livelihood. bread. They do not understand that there are farms with thousands of animals managed by a robot. They consider it absurd to change the means of life for machines and with their practice they challenge the dogma of hoarding money to sustain life.
—The pastor of your book says: “Since I cannot prevent the extinction of our species, I collaborate so that others do not disappear…”
—The shepherd understands the natural cycles because he undergoes them and appreciates them, he lives them. And it is clear to him that life is based on biodiversity and a complete Gaia. The shepherd plants trees because it will be the shade his sheep need. He returns organic matter to the earth to “fertilize” the fruits it has given him… Now that we talk so much about the depletion of synthetic fertilizers, he travels long distances with some prodigious beings who fertilize the land and sow seeds to their sheep at the same time.
—He also says that “the last tree on the planet will be felled by a sustainable energy project”.
— The pastor says that before renewing energies, we must renew society. He values his labor, which, like wool (with which the cover of the book is made, by the way), the heat of sheep or cow dung are absolutely ecological and renewable sources of energy. Not everything goes through electricity. He says that in our culture, we only know how to do things if we are “plugged in”. In other words, he warns us that the current energy transition proposals do not call into question that the essential thing is to give up certain privileges. As envisaged, they do not replace fossil fuels. The mill is the phallocentric image of a dagger, like an oil well, digging into the ground. These are projects that consolidate the privileges of the rich North by feeding on the goods looted in the South, today with open pit mines. And, of course, they reproduce the privileges of the urban over the rural. As I read in John Burroughs, “arterial blood when it comes in, venous blood when it comes back”. Let’s think that the attack on the rural comes from the fact that the rural, of course, is the greatest challenge to capitalism. In rural areas there is a strong self-organization, they know how to solve vital needs, they do not depend exclusively on what they can buy… Hence, the pastor tells me, the ridiculousness of rural culture .
“In this line,” said the pastor, “since the word durability has become synonymous with ‘maintenance of privilege’, I prefer to speak more clearly. We must return to “sobriety”, which was the typical way of life in rural areas.
—Yes, the durability they “sell” us (also) is an excuse to “support” the privileges. If we really want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, let’s stop importing soybeans from Brazil to eat and export cheap meat or vacuuming with green electricity instead of sweeping with a broom. The pastor’s motto is “expend more energy to live, not live with more energy”.
—Another great statement you put in the pastor’s mouth is, “The myth of progress has been sold, they sold us the myth of return, ergo the question is to sell”.
— At a time when there is so much talk of a return to the countryside, this return does not “review” anything, on the contrary, it is a new colonization by urban culture. And it is dangerous. If rural culture is destroyed, the possibility of returning to natural ways of life will be increasingly difficult. Beneath the discourse of depopulation there is a story that claims that “emptied Spain” can be filled with anything: macro-farms, energy or tourist infrastructures, landfills… The problem is not that there is a lack of people in the cities, but that Spain is full and its predatory advance on the countryside.
—The trick is then when to stop pushing to start braking?
“Or neither.” Rural culture has not fallen into linear temporal patterns. Time is circular. The circle is the only thing that allows you to walk indefinitely. They feel neither the need nor the obligation to move on. For those of us who have come from the city to the countryside, that says a lot. It was easier for me to address the differences in the design of the space, but it’s much more difficult in terms of time. My neighbor Magí, when he says “I don’t know what day I’m on” isn’t using a ready-made phrase, he’s confirming a reality. I like to defend the concept of Decivilization and for this transit it is necessary to be inspired by shepherdesses, shepherds, people dedicated to agriculture… These are the first activities that placed man at a certain distance from Nature but today they are, paradoxically, the ones that can allow us to reconnect. I believe that childhood should have shepherds among its references. Learn to recognize plants. Learn how to build a dry wall. Pastors as teachers or teacher-shepherds… My daughter, when she was little, combined realities and dreams very well, she said that during the day she wanted to be a shepherdess and at night, when the moon rises, an astronaut.
—What is the shepherd’s relationship with the animals? Is it not also an anthropocentric instrumental relationship that he establishes with them?
— It’s a relationship of synergy, of reciprocity. In fact, in my experience, what I have seen is that the passion, sensitivity and concern of the shepherds for the care of the land, nature and animals is an integral part. The shepherd avoids suffering but he is not afraid of death because he considers it the beginning of life. Death is part of the fabric of life, even if progress wanted to eliminate it from the equation. Overcoming the prejudice of death would help us grow as a society.
Originally posted on CTXT with the title: “The rural well understood is the greatest challenge of capitalism”