Passionate about insects from a young age, Georges Brossard is an Indiana Jones of modern times. In 40 years, he has travelled to more than 100 countries equipped with his net, in order to collect insects and supply insectariums around the world. He is the founder of the Montreal Insectarium, and the founder of 10 other insectariums around the world. His personal insect collection includes more than 500,000 specimens. He also created and hosted the Insectia series for Discovery Chanel. We loved doing this interview with Georges Brossard, who is 76 years old and full of energy, passion, and humour. Topics for this interview included entrepreneurship, his love for insects, and his struggle to promote insect-based food. This interview was an extraordinary encounter with this committed entomologist who has so much to teach the younger generations.
"There are talents that reside at the bottom of your heart, your soul, your body, and that ask nothing more than to grow like a plant."
Näak: You were a notary, insect hunter, and lecturer before founding the Montreal Insectarium. What advice would you give to young people who want to start their business today?
Every person is full of talent. Life provides us with a multitude of opportunities to use and develop them well. If I were to give advice to young entrepreneurs, it would be not to limit themselves.
The only limits are the ones that we impose on ourselves. I think we are not meant to be in one trade. You have to open your horizons and believe you can do more than one thing. There are talents that reside at the bottom of your heart, your soul, your body, and that ask nothing more than to grow like a plant.
You don’t tug on a plant to make it grow faster. But, you can give it the ingredients it needs to grow. For example, heat, water, and humidity. The human being must think deeply.
"After being a notary, I was an entomologist, a museologist, and I founded institutions. I founded 11 insectariums around the world. I was a writer, a lecturer, an actor, an airplane pilot. I change jobs every 10 years (laughs)!"
Who thinks it over, does it! You can’t think half an hour and then say it’s over. You have to go back and think it over, and then one day: Eureka! There is an opportunity…
I’ve had nine consecutive professions and I’ve had nine successes. My success in notary school allowed me to retire at 37, and I advise everyone to take early retirement. Meaning to find a way, not just to get rich, but to succeed in life to be able to free yourself up early and enjoy an extraordinary life.
Näak: For 40 years, you have been fighting to reconcile humans with insects. Tell us about your passion for these little beasts.
My passion for insects is quite simple to justify. Of all the animals that live on Earth, insects are the most hated, feared, despised, and unknown.
We've honoured all the other animal classes. We built zoos for big mammals, aviaries for birds, aquariums for marine species, and botanical gardens for plants.
For insects, absolutely nothing. As if insects were negligible. I wanted to pay tribute to this class of animals which is extraordinary and predominant on Earth!
Whether you like it or not, 95% of living things on Earth are insects. We know two million species and there are millions to discover.
Georges Brossard insect hunting. (Photo credit: Jonathan Wenk)
Näak: How did your passion for insects begin?
I come from a family of farmers, and we had cows that were in the pasture. One night, with my father, we went to our old tank to pump water for our cows to drink. At the bottom of the tank, four bees were drowning.
My father put his finger in the tank, the bees got on his finger and didn’t bite it. So, he said "they’re grateful, they don’t bite me because I just gave them life. Put your finger in…” I was 7-8 years old… Imagine!
So I put my finger in the water, the bees got on my finger and didn’t bite me. That day, Dad turned me into the entomologist that I am.
Näak: You have an impressive collection of thousands of insects and arachnids which you hunted yourself in more than 100 countries. What insect are you most proud to have captured?
It’s hard to say. In 40 years, I’ve collected over 500,000 insect specimens. The capture which I am most proud of is the famous gold beetle that Edgar Allan Poe talks about in his book which bears the same name. It is a wonderful beetle that has the color of gold. It lives in Central America (Costa Rica, Panama). After several trips where I came back without it, I finally managed to capture one.
Näak: What is the most delicious bug you’ve eaten?
The most delicious insects I’ve eaten are certainly crickets and grasshoppers. They are delicious.
I would like to point out that we eat insects, but seafood are the cousins of insects (lobsters, shrimp, crayfish). There are 2,500 species of insects known to date that are edible. Let’s pay tribute to insects by giving them the same chance as seafood.
Näak: The United Nations encourages the consumption of insects to combat world hunger because they are rich in protein and eco-friendly.
There are 200 million children who do not go to school each morning because they are too hungry. Of the 6 billion human beings, 2 billion do not eat until they are satiated. My ultimate dream is to feed all of humanity with insects and develop entomophagy around the world.
In Africa, we currently produce 1 tonne of flies per day for human or animal consumption. We feed our pigs, calves, cows, chickens and fish with insects. In Quebec, we have one of the best freshwater fish in the world; walleye. But, we are not able to raise them. Paradoxically, we buy our walleye in other countries... But the walleye mainly feeds on insects.
I would like to help people who want to develop entomophagy. The older I get, the more I work. I’m 76 years old, and I don’t feel like quitting at all. I have hunts to do, I have to go to countries I haven’t been to. I would like to discover new insects, and I would like to help open new insectariums.
Näak: Do you think more initiatives need to be taken to integrate insect-based feeding in young people's lives?
Yes and no, because the disdain is hard to pass if you don’t have a person who can remove it. Often, the person who teaches is more dismissive than the child. The children are not more dismissive than their caregivers. At the Insectarium, we made insect tastings. There were an awful lot of kids who were happy to try insects, while the parents were reluctant. Let’s work with the parents.
The insectarium of Montreal.
Näak: Today, 2 billion people worldwide eat insects, mainly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. How can we convince westerners to consume them?
It’s pretty simple, we must make them try insects. It’s up to all these good cooks and restaurateurs to gradually include insect-based dishes in their menu. For example, there are 51 restaurants in Mexico that serve excellent seasoned insects. They’re very well known, well attended, and you have to book well in advance.
A hundred years ago, lobster in Quebec was given to pork. Over time, people started eating lobster and selling them at a good price. Today, lobster is a considered very high quality food. Insects are the new lobster.
There will be public education, and there will be a need. In a few years, we will be 10 billion people on Earth, and the Earth will not be enough. The deserts are growing at an alarming rate, occupying the lands that were previously farmland, and the rivers are losing their fish population at a frenzied rate.
Farmland is disappearing because cities are becoming more and more important. Like it or not, we’re headed straight for a wall. Over time, people will realize the magnitude of the ecological disaster. I don’t blame people. We are always late to the game in terms of vital necessities, until it becomes a case of scarcity. And then, mankind, strangely, is capable of great imagination and great creativity to find solutions.
Näak: What have you learned from the world of insects that you would like to pass on to younger generations?
I learned a lot from looking outside, nature, and animals. Animals have absolutely incredible behaviors. For example, a tarantula mom lays about 50 babies a year and takes care of them. She contains them at night in a tube called an ootheque. All her cubs are cooped up in silk, and she lies down on her cubs. Bad things come to the predator who dares approach the tarantula mom.
'Insects are very intelligent. They have an incredible instinct for survival and protection. The insects are 400 million years old, and we humans appeared on Earth 200 million years ago.'
"I have an extraordinary life" - Georges Brossard. (Photo credit: Le Journal de Montréal)
NÄAK: How do you feel about insects and vegetarian diets? Can insects be included in a vegetarian diet?
Yes, certainly. There is only 15% of protein in a steak, while there is 65% in an insect. We’re not talking about the same class at all. The insect has a lot to contribute in the health and food industry. You don’t have to be a forward-thinking person to eat insects. It’s time to think.
Personally, I don’t eat insects that I find in nature. I raise my own insects. I raise them (mealworm) in darkness, they're delicious. They are very easy to raise because 800 eggs are laid every 10 days.
Näak: What process do you use to raise insects?
Every insect has its diet. A cricket needs plants and leaves while a mealworm just needs flour to feed.
Näak: Do insects feel pain?
No, I don’t think so. This has been studied for a long time and insects do not feel pain because they have no brain. We are much crueller with the way we raise cattle.
Näak: Do you have advise for people who have never tasted insects?
To try them. How many times, for example, have you had to introduce someone to seafood? A lot of people didn’t want to try seafood. Insects still sicken a lot of people. It is up to us to be resourceful and to develop delicious and attractive recipes.
The best cooks in the world have the experience to use ingredients that seem ordinary at first glance. Take salad as an example. From the moment you season it, and put condiments and oils on it, it becomes a delight.
Live shrimp covered in ants from the Nagano forest, in the gastronomic restaurant of Noma Tokyo. (Photo credit: Satoshi Nagare)
It’s the same thing with insects. They’re easy to produce. Today, there are huge insect factories that produce 1 ton of insects per day in Australia, Asia and Africa. You have to travel to find out. China and Vietnam use them because they are older than we are and have experienced overcrowding. Look at the overcrowding in China. It forces them to eat insects. Thai people have a culture that is absolutely incredible for entomophagy. They eat insects in industrial quantities. I’ve seen Arabs buy 10kg of cooked locusts and grasshoppers to bring back to their families. We must not copy, but we must learn from these countries.
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