Did last week’s post on imported prawns make you a bit uneasy? You’re not alone. One enraged reader noted it was “bullshit”. Another commented they had no idea of the true breadth of the issues. Land clearing, human rights violations, murder… we can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed when confronted with issues like these. We can retreat into a ‘what-can-little-ol’-me-do’ world.

At the risk of sounding a bit cheesy, it’s true that together WE CAN make a difference.

So this week, Sofia Strandberg speaks with one Swedish organisation who has ushered in a new era of awareness and activism, in which a consumer boycott of the humble prawn has grown so powerful that supermarkets, restaurants, hotels and even Pizza Hut, yes, Pizza Hut, have taken a stand and turned their back on the controversial crustacean…

The Swedes aren’t generally known for causing a stir. They’re a polite group of people who tend to shy away from confrontation. Yet in this past year, the Swedes have shown us how it’s done.

Through collective activism, everyday Swedes have managed to turn the plight of the prawn into a national agenda. As a result, supermarkets, hotel chains and even Pizza Hut, have removed it from their stock.

I spoke to Kristoffer Renberg, web editor at the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), the clever peeps behind Antiscampi, a campaign aimed at raising awareness about exactly how shitty tiger prawns really are. (In Europe the word scampi is often used for large prawns.) Check out their clip below.

The SSNC is a large environmental organisation that deals with a wide spectrum of issues, so why did you guys decide to focus on farmed prawns in particular?

“Although we’ve been working with prawn farming issues for a long time, and the issues are well-known in environmental circles, we thought it was time we made an attempt to reach a broader audience, in particular in light of the fact that in the last ten years Swedish imports of tiger prawns have increased by over 600%. The production of tiger prawns generates an unprecedented amount of problems, both for the environment and the local population where it’s farmed. Once you become aware of and understand all the issues, then it’s pretty much impossible to keep eating them.”

Your Antiscampi campaign has been hugely successful and is to date the most shared online ad in Sweden, ever. The campaign has also generated completely new buzzwords in the Swedish language, such as ‘shameprawn’, meaning the prawn you forget to take off your sushi order. Why do you think the campaign has been so successful? “We believe it’s easy to feel discouraged, or a sense of hopelessness in the face of today’s large and complex environmental issues, so we wanted to focus on the idea that we can actually do something about it. We also made sure to highlight the fact that prawns can easily be replaced, and rewarded those restaurants and shops that stop selling them (unfortunately this bit is not included in the English version of the video). And when we, as Sweden’s largest environmental organisation, put our foot down and actually dared to say, ‘if you’re only going to do one small thing for the environment, then stop eating tiger prawns’, then we’re making it extremely easy for the consumer.”

To date, the campaign has inspired thousands of people to send countless emails to supermarkets and suppliers, urging them to stop stocking prawns. People are personally dropping off flyers to their local restaurants, and leaving clever little ‘plate blurbs’ cards that read ‘Hi, I’ve chosen to remove the tiger prawn from my plate because it’s one of the biggest environmental crooks in the world. Can you please take it off your menu too?’. And as for the truly dedicated, they’re dressing up as prawns. All in all, small efforts that together have had a great impact.

So with the Swedes leading the way on this one, what can we do here in Australia? We’ve listed a few things in our previous post here, but one piece of advice is particularly worth repeating: Always ask where the prawns are from. If they’re imported, simply say no!

The SSNC is based in Sweden but cooperates with a number of organisations in Europe and runs and sponsors projects around the world. They’ve produced countless reports and investigations into prawn farming. You can find the English version of their webpage here.

Images via SSNC and the SSNC Antiscampi Facebook page (be warned, it’s in Swedish!).