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. jkINC

    I knew that vegans couldn't eat meat, I didn't know they could look at it!

    April 16, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. long ago

    Your food preference is totally inconsequential to me. Please answer this question: Why is it that vegans/vegetarians
    wear their food preference like a badge of honor? I consider everyone who declares their meatless life style as suspect, simply because I've never met anyone who actually practised what they preached. The latest was a guy I work with who declares he is the vegan of all vegans. Several weeks later I see him eating a egg salad sandwich. Upon
    questioning he told me "eggs don't count". Really? And I guess the fries he was eating that just came out of the oil that
    not a moment earlier had sausages in it doesn't count either. His response to that was it just not possible to avoid some situations. I'm sure there are a few, very few, who actually pull it off, but I haven't seen one yet. NOT ONE. Eat what you want, just don't push it in my face. BTW, my belief is that the most varied diet is the best diet. Slow cooked ribs for dinner tonight.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • LJHS72

      Deep fried sausages. Yuk.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Connie

      How is it OK for you to "stick in our face" that you love to eat animals while vegans can't simply say that they don't? By the way, I'm a vegan, and I'm not perfect. I don't eat animals for ethical reasons; it's a fact. So I try to be 100% with it, but I don't censor someone who makes a mistake. Cool it! We're all trying to do the best we can.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • long ago

      This is a work cafeteria. It is a bit disgusting, they also deep fry chicken, hot dogs and amazingly while standing in line
      the person in front of me asked for a veggie burger and requested that they deep fry it. The answer to my obvious question was simply "It tastes better". I guess some one needed their "grease fix" while kidding themselves about
      eating healthy. Go figure.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  3. just a thought

    At least animals have a chance to run away. The plants, can't do that, so we steal their babies, and boil them alive with other baby plants. How far have we fallen that we routinely eat the young from other species. Where is the honor in killing a corn, or removing a carrot or potato from its home just for the lame excuse of eating it. We should only eat things that can at least have a chance of fighting back. A full grown cow can cause a lot of damage to a person. A little more sporting if you ask me. But then nobody is really asking me, and I like French fries with my hamburger also.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Connie

      Plants can't run away! But they can regrow. Plants are renewable and don't have a nervous system so can't feel pain as we know it. Cows, chickens, and other non-human animals do. [Now don't start arguing that worms don't. I don't know if they do or not but I don't eat them either >-] ]

      April 16, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • paige

      in all of this, would somebbody explain the venus flytrap to me? A vegetable carnivore... (if somehow I make a VF Salad, am I wrongfor eating meat- and yes, this is hypothetical. I'm from NC and wouldn't pull a VF for love nor money)

      April 16, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  4. Lol

    Power to vegans, I say as a carnivore. I completey support the lifestyle choice for health as well as political reasons, even though I myself am not one. But when I read things like "...use only vegan photography, shot by vegan photographers..." I can't help but think that if you are going to speak and work in such an exclusionary and discriminatory fashion, my support turns very quickly to one big eyeroll. I would love to see what the response of the vegan debate team would say to an article about Essence magazine using only African American photography shot by African American photographers. Or better yet, the Wall Street Journal hiring only Caucasians. It is ludicrous, discriminatory and makes me want to publish the link to this article in my status update on Facebook, with a big LOL!

    April 16, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Connie

      I am a vegan and I agree with you. I think that we should try to bring together people not alienate them. I wasn't born vegan and it took me years to evolve to this so I can't castigate people who haven't yet made this choice or who might never do so. I feel that I have achieved my best life but I don't tell others how to reach theirs.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  5. Biomince

    Maybe a good compromise would be for the Veg Mag to label the meaty stock photos with a small disclaimer. Then it would all be above board...

    April 16, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tasty Burger

    Ha ha! VegNews skewered like a shish-ka-bob dripping with chunks of tasty meat!

    April 16, 2011 at 8:47 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. thespiritguy

    I just took a photo of my bowl of chicken noodle soup. It took about three seconds, it looks yummy and it cost nothing. Or am I missing something here?

    April 16, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • JKT

      Publish that photo and you'll see it does not look very good at all. Magazine photos, printed on coated stock, must be VERY well lit and very colorful, or they will fail. So yes, you are missing quite a few somethings.

      That said, the magazine could have assembled their own lightbooth on a shoestring budget and at least TRIED to take their own photos. But it would not have taken "3 seconds" as your low-quality photo took.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. tatertot

    Where's the beef/chicken?
    I see potatoes, tomatoes, and some green stuff.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. jfr

    Time for a Bar-B-Q.....Steak, medium rare please!!

    April 16, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Eee

    I think this is sort of ridiculous. Number one: For all who would rather they do the pictures themselves, it would look horrible and the magazine would have no appeal. Hardly anybody would read it. Number two: To have them done professionally, you would most certainly break the budget of a publication that is running on a shoestring already. It's just not feasible. Number three: A picture of meat does not contain any meat.

    Maybe VegNews could have thrown in a disclaimer somewhere to explain why they used the pictures before they actually went ahead and did it. But judging from the super-idealist mindset of some of their readers, they probably would have drawn just as much flak.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jerry

    I think its so cute when the vegan community starts cannibalizing itself in an effort to see who can be less tolerant.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • JKT

      Kudos. Well said.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jason

    Floyd said best:
    "If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?"

    April 16, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • kbm

      I'm trying to decide if that is satire or just plain stupidity.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dan

    Good times.....reading this article while eating chicken.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. the 2chefs

    I have a photographer come in once a month to shoot several items we have prepared before his arrival. These are posted on my web site i about a week at most and although it can be costly it's better for us to show our actual foods then someone elses. In the case of this magazine, not so much although I buy magazines after reviewig the food photos. I never want to re-create their plate. I mearly want to get new ideas and put my own spin on it. How can I improve it, make it more appealing etc.. Seeing what it actually looks like from their original recipe does help if you feel you need to duplicate it exactly but anyone who cooks or aspires to cook should not be trying to make picture perfect plates. They need delicious! That's what the photo should show. This inspires you to try something new and maybe even a lifestyle change. I've never seen this magazine but I think I'm headed to the book store today. I can't wait to see the recipes!

    April 16, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Diane

    First of all veganism is not just the way a person eats. It takes in an ethical lifestyle promoting compassion and nonviolence to all beings in this world. The world would be a MUCH better place if people just looked into this way of living. Most people who eat animal products have no idea how it gets on their plate.... Look into it. To be a vegan is not restrictive at all, it is a joy. No protein worries either..greens have more usable protein than meat.. All animals that you eat got their protein from plant foods. Go vegan.. I love VegNews magazine.. We need you.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • robert

      I know exactly where my meat comes from because we slaughter our own :)

      April 16, 2011 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
    • long ago

      The world would be a much much better place if there were no people.
      The animals would still eat each other (perfectly natural, and the current state of affairs)
      but there would no one to complain about it................
      As a personal protest I believe I'll have a liquid lunch today, yeah that's it, that's the ticket.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      I agree... humans are the cancer of the earth...greed, violence

      April 16, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
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