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. MEAT EATER

    EAT MEAT MMMMM GOOD FOR THE SOUL!!!! YOU KNOW YOU WANT IT... YOU'VE BEEN DRULING OVER IT FOR YEARS. TAKE THE LEAP EAT THE MEAT HA HA HA HA

    April 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Chris

    I think it is fraud to publish a recipe and then not shoot the actual food that you cooked in the test kitchen. But I bet these clowns don't even bother to cook in a test kitchen.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dr. Delhi

    ___ Beef! ... it's what's for Dinner !! ___

    April 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dr. Delhi

    Beef! ... it's what's for Dinner !

    April 16, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Not at my house!

      April 17, 2011 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  5. Frank

    Animals have two purposes in this day and age:
    1) to look good while I wear them
    2) to be tasty when I eat them

    April 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blackstrider

      I feel the same way about people named Frank. Where are you from again?

      April 16, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Nick

    To paraphrase a lesson taught by the Buddha: The Buddha taught that is was preferable to not eat meat because it does lead to the suffering of the animal, at some after that one of his students noticed someone eating meat and chastised the person and became very arrogant, now the Buddha had overheard this, and with that student listening, has another student bring him a piece of chicken.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carnivore

    It's just a PICTURE of meat so quit you patchouli scented crying. BAAAAbabababBABABb HHHAAAAAA

    April 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. George from Georgia

    My girlfriend use to be a vegan but now she loveeeeees MEAT XD lol

    April 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blackstrider

      I know.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ADP

    I understand why people would be outraged that meat-based foods would be passed off as vegan. This is deceptive and gives home cooks the impression that recipes they followed that didn't look like the photos must have been improperly made. But if the problem is limited to the photo and doesn't extend to the quality of the recipe, instructions and health information, then I think that the magazine editors should turn this bumble on their part into a cooperative effort to create a vegan food photo repository, as suggested by others. It could help with their credibility.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Anevay

    Magazines do this all day long. Whats new about it? they cropped Demi Moores hips to make her look slimmer so we would all pick up the damn book! They airbrush celebrities on the cover, they put hair clips in the back of dresses in catalogs to make them appear tighter, they stuff womens bras in victorias secret to make the bra look as if its levitating your boobs. I think its great that there is one less person eating cows, makes me feel less guilty, but now Im starting to think these vegans are just a fussy sort of people and don't really care about the moral issues involved.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. scottxcbad

    As a vegan myself, I would like to say that us vegans are a bunch of whining little schoolgirls who totally suck at life.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Eric

    Vegans are funny, strange and flaky people. These stories are like stories about PETA, I read them for extertainment and then go fire up the grill and cook a nice steak for dinner. mmmmm, so delicious. I bet meat tastes SOOO good because humans are MEANT to eat meat, we're not cows outside grazing on grass. Geeze, just saying the word cow makes me hungry...

    April 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. P

    Wasn't Hitler a vegan?

    April 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      He was vegetarian.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  14. caleb ks

    honestly this is not news worthy, mc donalds uses paste in their pictures and no one put that on the news. i have no problems with vegan people but this is not a big deal it happens in everyday advertisment even apple did so with theiphone 3gs, it was supposed to have "new features" and to this day i have an iphone 4 and it still does not have thoose features that were promised.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. J

    I poked my eyes out with a celery stalk and ran from the house screaming

    April 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
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