[00:00:00] I did work for my doctorate in entomology at the University of Paris . I was very interested in insects because as a group it is the reigning kingdom of the planet, having overcome all geological phenomena. I lived in France for a few years and I saw that my countrymen were regarded as ragged, sandal-wearing, malnourished, lazy Indians. When I returned, I asked myself, “Why is that?” All of this led me to study modern chronic malnutrition. I wanted to know what insects contributed to the alleviation of this problem. Very few of us are working on this. Yet insects, despite the fact that they are not very visible, are quite abundant, but just very small. But, humans have thought that insects are bad, harmful, and dirty, that they must be expelled and killed. And this has been so at least since 1940, when synthesized insecticides appeared. So doing this work has not been easy at all, especially at the time in which I began. Also, here in Mexico women were pretty much relegated to the home—she could study to a certain extent if she had no further ambitions than to earn a degree or follow some other course of study so that when she married, she would go and take care of her home. Of course, there were obstacles of various types to overcome, like respecting a woman, a woman’s credibility, the tenacity one has to have in these innovative types of study, because they thought I was crazy—they said this was impossible and they called me a radical.
[1:40:50] Along the line of the study of insects as future sources of protein, we gather edible insects from around the world. We correlate them with ethnicity. (What do they symbolize? How are they used as food?) We look at their ecotone and the ecosystem where they are found, and we look at the population density. Of course, they are taxonomically classified so we know what species they are. I was the most surprised of all when I realized the quantity of insects that were eaten. I thought that there were going to be 30, 35, 40 species—tops—that were going to be repeated, and today we have 398. And on the global level, we have recorded 1,698 species in bibliography alone. We analyze the nutritive value and are particularly interested in the protein, which is their primary nutritive value. And from this we do an amino-gram to find out what amino acids there are and in what quantities they exist in these insects. Insects generally have a high level of amino acids, and we determine their chemical makeup as well. Then we look at their digestibility with both fresh and canned [samples]. We also look at the types of lipids that make up the fats, so we know what kinds of fatty acids are present and which mineral salts are present in a particular species. This gives us a model, a model of the total nutritional value—how it is digested and its [nutritional] benefits—of the species.
[3:15:15] When I was at the lagoon of Epatlán in Puebla, a farmer took out a very large beetle—it wasn’t a Megasoma, but it was similar—and he ate it just like that, with the elytrons (forewings), the legs, the spines, and all. That really shocked me and I said, “How can he eat that?” Then when I was in Yosotato in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca , I saw that people there did the same. A Swiss woman [Anhara Lanz] came to Mexico to conduct an interview, and I took her to Tulancalco , Hidalgo . There, there is something called a mesquite worm, but it is not a worm, it is a very big bug, approximately ten centimeters long. Its very pretty, blue and orange, velvety. And people capture it, dry it, and then keep it in a bag to preserve them. And they take them out [of the bag] on a regular basis to eat. When Anhara Lanz saw that a two-year-old child had this bug in his hand and was chewing on it, she fainted. This shows that ideas about what is edible for people from the country or people from the city or for foreigners can be completely different from each other, so much so that it can be shocking. I was shocked once when I was in Iquitos , Peru . The indigenous people had given me three very big larvae, a type they ate. They put them in coconuts for me that they had split open. They took out the coconut water and tied [the coconuts] shut with twine. They gave me three coconuts, each one with a big larva [inside]. But I needed to determine what type of insect they were, so I left them in the hotel. I was there taking a class, and I said, “I’m going to see if they have pupated yet,” that is to say, if they had passed to the next stage of development. And then I saw that they had been stolen, but the coconuts had been closed in the same fashion in order to pretend that [the larvae] were still there. Something which is three centimeters thick cannot escape through a crack, which is all there was. So I said to myself, “this [love for larvae, here in Peru] must be deeply rooted in people’s nutritional habits.”
[5:19:00] I should say that work on the use of insects in traditional medicine is still in its infancy, because we have only [recently] found that there are active principles in them. People have told us: “We use this [insect] for severe coughs; we use this one for asthma; and we use this one for urination.” We have been collecting them [insects], and we now have [found] 96 species in Mexico and 210 in the world. We collaborate with the Pharmacology Department in the University of Montpellier and look at the active principles in these species. We have found that many stinkbugs, among them the sacred stinkbug, contain very powerful analgesics and anesthetics. We began with that [study], and I believe that it has a very promising future because insects accumulate the substances and compounds they find in plants and then make them more concentrated. So we find them [these substances and compounds] in much higher quantities in an insect than in the plant itself.
[6:22:00] With recycling insects we see that, with technology advancing, there is much more waste of all types, including organic waste. This organic waste is made up of garbage. Garbage is a pollutant, a place that attracts rats, for example, or insects that transmit diseases, or other harmful animals. We take this organic waste and we process it. That is to say, sometimes we add water, sometimes we dry it in the sun and then recycle it using different types of insects. We sow these insects either in their adult stage or their eggs. They feed on the waste. They reproduce, and later we dry the insects. From them we obtain a biomass and this, in turn, is made into protein feed for animals such as chickens, fish, frogs and pigs, which we have tried already. So, they [insects] constitute a source of protein for animals in Mexico and in the world. For example, [in Mexico ] we are lacking [in this area] because we import almost all the protein needed for our animal feed. But with this method [of using insects], we can feed chickens and other animals, and it is also an indirect source of protein for humans. So, we do these studies of productivity: What is optimum productivity? What is the rate of conversion, the efficiency of conversion, as much the conversion of the waste by the insect as the conversion of each insect into food for an animal? We look for the effect they have on growth, on reproduction, on coloring, for example, of an egg yolk, the [chicken’s] feet, the beak, and the meat, which we like to be a certain color. From these studies we can recommend these insects as a source of protein for animal nutrition.