Photos: Annika Lundkvist Photography
Interview with Sweden
I first met Sweden with her mother and 2 of her siblings on a rainy, windy afternoon in Helsingborg to take some photos to go along with an interview for Vegan Italy magazine. Little did I know that her mother would quickly become a dear friend & that my admiration for their family would grow in leaps & bounds so immediately. When I looked at the Instagram account that Sweden runs, @alf_sweden, I was impressed, not only by the number following but by the sheer directness & passion that I know is required for such an eye opening & ongoing project & campaign of awareness. My interview with Sweden’s mother Louise will appear in the July 2017 issue of Vegan Italy magazine. Now for some dialogue with Sweden!
Annika: What inspired you to start social media accounts for animal rights & vegan issues?
Sweden: From the moment I went vegan, I started thinking of different ways to spread veganism, and I started off by simply talking about it during school time and with my friends. But obviously people in my school did not believe me on how inhumanely we treat animals and neither did my friends. I figured that by just talking about it was not enough, and I really wanted to find a better way to spread the word. I then found this famous animal activist on Youtube called Gary Y. What he does is that he travels all over the world to different schools and simply talks about veganism and really tries to make teenagers understand the truth behind meat/dairy industries.
Gary was the one that truly inspired me to continue on spreading the truth to people. And after I had discovered him, I really wanted to start a Youtube channel myself, but it never really happened because of the minimum amount of time I had back then with school and sports.
During the first year of high school, I had a Personal project (PP) to work on during the entire year, where students can feel free to be creative and create or do anything they want. And here is where I found the opportunity to open an account. My PP was all about spreading the word through social media, and planning a protest in central Helsingborg. I had a mentor for this, where we would discuss new ideas and how to improve after every week that went by. He also helped me organize the protest because there were a lot of papers to sign for permission.
Annika: When you became vegan, was there anything you found difficult to ‘give up’? How did you learn to adjust to not eating those things?
Sweden: When I knew what veganism truly was, I started thinking about how difficult it would be for me to “give up” on cheese, and since there was no such thing as “vegan cheese” back then in Europe, I really didn’t know how to resist. But the thing is, when I then really dug deep into what really happens in a dairy factory, I was more than happy to leave any animal products and go fully vegan, because no living being deserves to die for me.
Annika: Was there any media or certain channels that had a strong influence on your views?
Sweden: Yes, as I have already mentioned earlier, Gary Yourofsky was and still is a huge influence on my views. He really made me understand the importance of spreading the word of veganism, and to never give up even in hard situations, and to be speak up for the voiceless ones. I listened to him a lot which made me improve in my debating skills.
Annika: You use your social media channels to communicate very powerful messages but also perhaps difficult for some to see or hear. What has some of the response been?
Sweden: Since I started my project on Instagram, I have received thousands of messages and comments where people have really been grateful for the things that I have been posting and the message that I was trying to convey. A lot of people all over the world went vegan after hearing me out, which I am really impressed with. All those positive messages for what I was/am doing was what also made me continue on informing the world.
However, at the same time, I have/still am getting a lot of negative comments for sharing the truth, some followers/trolls that I have, always comment something so disturbing or just very cruel to any powerful photo that I share. But these comments are not going to stop me from continuing on sharing and fighting for what is right.
Annika: You live in a family full of vegans! What are some of your favorite meals to enjoy together?
Sweden: Oh god probably the best question you can ask me! We always have a variety of food for every meal during the day to maintain the right levels of nutrition in our body. My absolute favorite meal that I could go on eating every day would probably be vegan lasagne made by my mom, but I would not mind either a vegan pizza or vegan tacos prepared by my dad.
Annika: Would you consider yourself as a spokesperson for animal rights issues and promoting plant based eating?
Sweden: I would say that I am, because I have for the past three years been very busy with planning protests, participating in different vegan events around Europe, and of course expanding my Instagram. During these years, I have received thousands of messages from people thanking me for making them understand and change their lifestyle as well as the effort that I have put in to share veganism on social medias. But I cannot say that I have been promoting plant based food a lot, even though I have wanted to. My brother and I did open an instagram account together where we would only post vegan foods and desserts, but it did not go far due to lack of time from both of us.
Annika: Do you have friends who have been interested in veganism or become vegan but don’t have much support from their families?
Sweden: Yes I have many friends in different countries that are very interested in going vegan, but they simply cannot because their parents just completely disagree with veganism. I have tried to help them out as much as I can, but it is difficult if they live in a house full of people that just won’t accept their decision. I also have a close friend of mine that went vegan a year ago, and I am so proud of her for finally understanding and choosing to go vegan.
Annika: Did you ever experience any negativity in school or around your peers with being vegan and how did you handle it?
Sweden: Yes I had and still do experience a lot of negativity in school, but I never really do anything to handle it. I know my facts and I know very well after years of research what I am talking about, so I have no reason to handle the negativity around me. If people feel like making jokes because I am vegan, I let them. A close friend of mine, before she went vegan, she used to talk bad about me in school because I was vegan, and after two years of me spreading the word, she understood, went vegan and of course also apologized afterwards.
Annika: Since you started your @alf_sweden IG account, has your view of social media changed in anyway?
Sweden: Honestly, I never thought that I could reach so many followers on Instagram and have the great chance to get to know so many people all around the world. Before I started my project, I only used social media for entertainment, just like most teenagers do. And when I had opened my Instagram account, I was pretty certain that I would not have much success with it even though I felt like still giving it a shot. Now looking back at what I have accomplished in two years, I am almost shocked. Even though social media does have its negative sides like influencing teenagers as well as older people in different ways, social media is also a great way to send your message and reach out to people around the globe.
Annika: Why do you think social media is important in general but also specifically for your generation?
Sweden: I think social media is important to spread influential messages around the world, in my case being veganism. My generation is on social media all the time and using social media it is easy for young people to get the message about veganism so they can help be the change in the world that is needed.
Annika: I know you value doing things to help the homeless? Can you share more on that?
Sweden: Yes of course. The thing is, I feel horrible when I see a human being sitting on the ground without food or money. It is so unfair that society has made it this way, but this does not mean that we cannot try and make a change. I would hate to be in their position, and I can for sure feel their pain of waiting around hoping for help. I always try and give what I can to the homeless that I meet in town, and for them it does not matter if it is just one kr or if it is a piece of bread, they are still thankful.
Annika: Have you ever combined helping the homeless with providing vegan food (or thought about doing such a project)?
Sweden: Yes I have and many times. When I was volunteering in Helsingborg for the clochards, I really thought of giving out vegan food for the people in need than non-vegan food. But the thing is, vegan products are more expensive than non-vegan ones, and since the government gave us a specific amount of money, it was quite impossible for us in the community to serve vegan food. I did have the chance to talk about my idea and the people that helped out there liked it, but it was just not possible because of the low budget. .
Annika: Do you have some projects (creative, community etc) that you have on your mind for the future?
Sweden: I’ve always had in mind to start some sort of app, obviously not alone, to promote veganism, but I never knew how I could ever combine those two until a few months ago. A guy from the US contacted me through Instagram asking me if I wanted to join him and his friend in a little project for well being and veganism. I took this opportunity straight away and accepted the deal. All I had to do in the beginning was to promote the app through my Instagram account and make people download it. I have a few small projects in mind, and I am really hoping that I will be able to accomplish them in the future wherever I will be.
Here’s to all you do Sweden!