'I just feel a lot healthier being vegetarian but the thing I love most is the fact that I have a completely clear conscience'.
A word of advice to meat eaters – if you think that animal cruelty is unimportant and that vegetarianism is a waste of time, whatever you do…
Don’t Challenge Anneka
by Tony Wardle
If you’re young, you almost certainly know her as a trend-setting, pretty cool cyber babe. If you’re not young, you may not know her at all. Either way, Anneka Svenska is a multi-talented actress, comedienne, writer and presenter who pops up all over the place – OK magazine, GQ and Front magazines, on the cover of Essential or hosting a celebrity night at Madame Jo Jos. But real devotees will forever see her as Eden in the quirky, sci-fi, martial arts programme Out There on Channel Five TV. Fortunately, Anneka is also a committed vegetarian, ardent Viva! supporter and model who has the looks to transport our t-shirts to a different dimension.
The lovely thing about Anneka is that she isn’t playing at animal rights. When she talks about suffering she does so with great intensity, carefully thinking through what she wants to say, choosing words with precision and delivering them with all the skills of a professional actor. She wants to be understood and wants to have an effect – she wants to change things.
This was never clearer than at our London anti-factory farming rally two years ago where she appeared on stage with her little daughter Annalise. She likened today’s factory farms and slaughterhouses with the holocaust and knew she was courting controversy by doing so. She wasn’t making a value judgement that human suffering and animal suffering are one and the same but was making the point that they have similar roots, are surrounded by similar excuses and that the mechanics of abuse and slaughter are so similar as to be frightening.
There is a sense that all roads, all commitments in Anneka’s world lead to Annalise and that Anneka is determined to do all she can to provide a better world for her little innocent to grow up in.
Anneka with daughter Annalise and Wendy Turner-Webster
“When I had Annalise nearly four years ago my mother made no attempt to hide her worries at my determination to bring her up as a veggie. I had to make it very clear that the last thing I wanted was to muck up my little girl’s system with meat!”
Talking to Anneka in the comfort of her lovely Battersea home there is sense that this decision was probably not that easy because she describes her partner, Michael, as a ‘rampant meat eater’.
“I can’t even discuss the issues with him and so, for the sake of our relationship, I simply avoid the subject.” I also sense it’s time to avoid the subject but one thing I’m certain of, if Michael is waiting for Anneka to bend the knee and change her beliefs, he’ll have a long wait. They run through every fibre of her and she’s already fought some pretty intense battles in support of them.
It all began in her early teens when she made a connection between the meat on her plate and living animals. The realisation dawned when she picked up some leaflets from a street stall which exposed the truth behind fox hunting, vivisection and factory farming. That was the end of meat eating and the beginning of a battle which, today, sounds almost Dickensian. When she told teachers at her school of her decision and refused point blank to eat meat as part of her school lunch, the full weight of their ignorant authority swung into action.
“They told me I was much too thin to even think of giving up eating meat but when I insisted and stuck to my beliefs, they refused to allow me to attend school. I was effectively suspended until I agreed to give in. My parents backed the school and so I had no support and no option but to concede. Unbelievably, they then had a teacher monitor me to ensure I ate what was given to me.”
Anneka is now 28 so this barbaric coercion by a state school didn’t take place decades ago but relatively recently, when most schools in the country (thanks to a successful campaign by Viva!’s director Juliet Gellatley) were happily offering vegetarian options for lunch.
Despite the battle over vegetarianism, Anneka describes her Buckinghamshire upbringing as extremely happy – ‘nice and middle class’. Although one of four children, she was the only girl and the youngest of her three brothers is 14 years older than her – so it’s probably fair to assume she was spoilt rotten by them. However, another battle loomed over vivisection when students at her school were expected to gas living rats, chop them up on the pretext of learning and freeze them.
“Kids were killing and dissecting for no reason whatever and it had nothing to do with the careers they intended following after leaving school. I found it all so utterly cruel and unnecessary and as a consequence I simply boycotted biology classes.”
Fortunately, home provided an entirely different animal environment:
“There were always lots of animals around – cats and dogs and at one point as many as 40 dwarf rabbits. It all started after I’d watched Watership Down and fell in love with rabbits. Their numbers just kept on growing, partly because I was continually sneaking new ones home from rabbit shows, believing that no one would ever notice them amongst so many others.”
Her love of animals made Anneka think about becoming a vet and when she went to drama school, she filled in by doing work experience at a veterinary practice.
“I found it very stressful, particularly the whole process of killing animals. The vets seemed to be keen to kill and showed no emotion that I could see. Owners were always asked if they wanted the ashes of their pet after they had been cremated but all the animals were burned in batches so the owners were sent any old ashes. It just seemed so disrespectful to me.”
Anneka first came to the public’s attention when she presented the cult Channel Five programme Out There. The offer came when she was three months pregnant with Annalise and she finally took to the small screen just two weeks after her baby was born. Presenting was not what she originally intended as Anneka sees herself as an actor and comedy her forte. She is currently working on two comedy series which she will also co-write.
Incensed at the way fur has been making a gradual reappearance, she has recently agreed to model a range of fake furs on the basis that each sale will produce a contribution to Viva!’s campaign funds. Thanks Anneka – it’s appreciated!
Anneka Svenska has an absolute commitment to ending animal cruelty and when she talks about it you can detect the pace of her conversation increasing, her voice becoming more intense. You get the sense that she is feeling everything she says even as she says it. It would be a brave person who challenged her on this particular subject!
Few of us have ever been forced to eat meat and that must have left a scar of resentment.
“I just feel a lot healthier being vegetarian but the thing I love most is the fact that I have a completely clear conscience. When I was younger and had to eat meat I felt terrible – both mentally and physically. Now I feel great and even insurance companies offer lower premiums to us veggies so that tells you something.”