Vegan magazine in a stew over meaty stock photos
Vegan blog quarrygirl.com accused VegNews.com of using photos of meat from iStockphoto to depict vegan dishes.
April 15th, 2011
10:19 PM ET

Vegan magazine in a stew over meaty stock photos

Many salivate over the mere image of a juicy hamburger or a glistening rack of ribs, but vegetarians aren't usually among them.

But apparently, that's what the readers of VegNews, the nation's leading vegan magazine, have been doing for years without their knowledge.

With the help of an anonymous reader tip, the author of the vegan blog, quarrygirl.com, accused VegNews of using food images of meat in its magazine and website and passing them off as meatless. The allegation prompted the San Francisco-based publication to confess that it had, "from time to time," used stock images that turned out not to be totally animal-free.

"The pictures we've been drooling over for years are actually of MEAT!" she charged.

To support the allegation, the irate post compared pictures of recipes on VegNews.com with photographs from royalty-free image service, iStockphoto. One example shows an image of a "veganized" Brunswick stew recipe from VegNews.com and an identical image from iStockphoto titled "chicken breast-soup-stew-pepper."

"Get your barf bags ready!" quarrygirl.com editorialized.

In perhaps the most egregious example, the post compared pictures of "Vegan Spare Ribs" and "Barbecue Ribs Dinner," pointing out where the bones were apparently edited out of the image.

"Veg News has written tens (possibly hundreds) of articles extolling the virtues of a vegan lifestyle, while purchasing rock-bottom priced stock photos of MEAT, EGGS, DAIRY and other completely non-vegan things," the post said.

In response, the magazine admitted that "Yes, from time to time, after exhausting all options, we have resorted to using stock photography that may or may not be vegan," in a plaintive letter addressing the controversy.

The VegNews team pointed out in its defense that the magazine has been privately owned and independently funded for 12 years, no small feat in the expensive world of publishing.

"In an ideal world we would use custom-shot photography for every spread, but it is simply not financially feasible for VegNews at this time. In those rare times that we use an image that isn't vegan, our entire (vegan) staff weighs in on whether or not it's appropriate," the VegNews team said.

"It is industry standard to use stock photography in magazines and, sadly, there are very few specifically vegan images offered by stock companies. In addition, it's exceedingly challenging to find non-stock imagery that meets the standard necessary for publication. We would love nothing more than to use only vegan photography shot by vegan photographers, and we hope to be there soon."

The controversy set off intense debate as to whether VegNews' actions can ever be justified, with many prominent voices in the vegan world vowing to cancel their subscriptions to the magazine and ban the site.

But others came to VegNews' defense.

"As a privately owned publication with no outside funding, VegNews has done the near impossible by lasting 11 years and securing prime real estate in bookstores across the country. Currently, the popular magazine reaches over 1 million readers each month, including herbivores and omnivores alike," wrote Michael Parrish DuDell, senior editor of Ecorazzi.com, a self-described  "green gossip blog."

"While some online critics have suggested VegNews source user submitted photos, anybody who’s ever worked in publishing knows this suggestion isn't logistically possible. With time-sensitive deadlines, detailed specs, and other provisions to consider, sourcing photos would be more trouble than it's worth. Ideally, VegNews would have an in-house photographer, but being an independently owned company on a conservative budget prohibits that option. These are only some of the challenges the outspoken naysayers don't seem to be considering."

Another prominent vegan blogger said the end justifies the means and urged readers to continue supporting VegNews.

"All that really matters is that the reader associates the image with vegan food in a positive way, ultimately leading them to support vegan things," wrote Kayla, the blogger behind Babe in Soyland.

"Hurting VegNews over this would be sad and would mean the loss of an important resource and a way for vegans to reach out to their own kind as well as people who are NOT vegan but interested in veganism...It would be an unfortunate take-down of one of the vegan community’s greatest accomplishments by their own people and I just don’t think that’s what being vegan should be about."

But in this wired world, where action and reaction is instant, the kerfuffle has already sparked discussion of solutions.

"A good day to draw attention to vegan food photographers: @susanffvk @tofu666 @bittersweet_ @ohsheglows and I'm ok, too," tweeted Isa Chandra, a best-selling vegan cookbook author.

"Let's take a positive spin on the @VegNews photo controversy: create a vegan stock site! I would submit in a heartbeat. Problem-solved?" tweeted artsparrow.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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Filed under: Food
soundoff (708 Responses)
  1. Ryan Patey

    I'm still not really sure why people are holding to the "we had to use stock because there were no better options" excuse. I've been publishing a vegan magazine with photos taken by contributors, my friends and myself for a few years now. Although we have not reached the level of VegNews, I would like to think the magazine, T.O.F.U. (www.ilovetofu.ca) has maintained a high standard, all while keeping its ethics intact.
    Here's hoping VegNews will step up to the plate, apologize and then look to their readers for help so they can avoid using non-vegan stock photos.

    April 17, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  2. Cathleen

    At this point we've all heard about the story and have experienced the range of emotions including sadness, betrayal, anger, and embarrassment. What we need now is a new apology letter indicating that VegNews has decided to change their photography policies in favor of something more ethical.

    I made my own and I think something like this would win back at least some of the former allegiance.

    http://www.vegan-nutritionista.com/vegnews-scandal.html

    April 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Stan

    I thank VegNews for introducing me to Vegan products, events, services and news for many years. The attacks on VegNews are pathetically childish. Compared to the rest of American "news" and politics, VegNews is an oasis of compassion. If VegNews was the worst thing allowed to exist, 98% of all Americans would be exterminated as garbage.

    April 17, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • CoryJean

      Well said Stan!

      April 17, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Veganman

    Aside from all of this arguing, I always thought VegNews was a substandard farce. Now I have proof.

    April 17, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stan

      Don't like it, don't read it. Do you think it's worse than factory farming or vivisection or prosecution of animal advocates?
      Seriously, put your energy where it counts.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • androgyny

      I agree.

      @Stan – finish crying and go find something else to do.

      May 10, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JJ

    Simple solution! Actually prepare what you are featuring, take a pic, upload it, and then you are "ethically" doing what is right.

    April 18, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. erin

    This... is not news. You know what.... I've had health problems my whole life and it turned out to be not meat, not pesticides, not all the crazy drugs they gave me to try to fix said problems, not even the cancer... it was... gluten. That's right folks, good old-fashioned plant-based wheat protein. Who cares what people choose to eat? If you don't like it, don't eat it, don't condemn others, live by example, etc etc.

    April 25, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steamed Carrots

      OH Erin... how I heart you so... I like your outlook. If we had more like you, the world would be a far less violent place.

      May 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. KROMETOES

    If only that vegan crap food looked as good as a meat dish they wouldn't be afraid to publish photos of it! That is the real reason they don't want reader submitted food photos. It looks and tastes like crap.
    You come to my house? You eat meat. Rare bloody steak, ahhhh!!! MOOOOO!

    May 2, 2011 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      I had the great misfortune of living with two girls, one was a vegetarian, the other a vegan. They had a vegan dinner party one night, and I was offered some macaroni and cheese. I wondered how they pulled this off without actually using cheese. Turns out, their "cheese" was some type of disgusting paste made from yeast. They asked me how I liked it, with big grins on their faces, and I had to force a big smile and say it tasted like the real deal. I excused myself to the bathroom, spit out the mouthful I had into the toilet and emptied my bowl and flushed it all. The vegan girl was fat also. In fact, most vegan women I know have been quite overweight. I don't get the hype. Personally, I avoid eating a lot of read meat, prefer to buy grass-fed beef and free range chicken eggs from a local farmer, and I get unpasteurized milk from the same farmer, but I could never, ever go vegan. The human digestive tract resembles that of a large carnivore more than it does other great apes because meat has been such a staple of our diet for the past tens or hundreds of thousands of years. I like to eat meat, but not to overdo it, and I like to eat meat that was well fed and well raised. Cows aren't meant to eat grain, they're grazers. That's why I buy grass-fed. I think it tastes better anyway.

      May 10, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Err... red meat, not "read meat".

      May 10, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Steamed Carrots

      Now Now, KROMETOES, let's not be hasty. People have a right to choose what they want to eat. Its just the way it is. Besides, why can't you be more like Erin? She's got the right idea.

      May 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Margroks

    This is clearly aN UNETHICAL PRACTICE. Saying they have exhausted all options to get a picture so they use an edited picture of a meat meal is not acceptable. There is no excuse for not cooking it and photographing it.

    May 6, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. PiddlyD

    Here is my perspective. I'm an omnivore. I have no ideological, philosophical or spiritual problem with eating anything that is edible. To that end, I have no problems eating a vegan meal – and frequently defend how a good Vegan meal can be just as tasty as a meat based dish. I've been to The Vegiterranean in Akron, and Mum's in Sacramento, and other vegan places all over the world. If it tastes good and is well prepared, it doesn' t have to include meat. But I'm also not a *zealot* – and the zealotry of the Vegan movement is what turns other people off to the vegan lifestyle. They're not content to practice this lifestyle themselves – they've got to preach, witness and convert. I'm going to eat things with faces for the next week just to make a social statement, and I'd recommend all other omnivores do the same. Veal, Venison and KFC followed by some Foie Gras topped steak.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Josh

    Spam is not vegan.

    April 17, 2011 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
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