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. Chris

    Shut-up and who cares. You didn't eat them so pss off.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Remford

    Yet MORE jobs liberals put at-risk.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jason

    Lol. Silly vegans.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. JK

    It is never OK for journalism to lie. The photos were lies. Period.

    The rest of these comments are off-topic, and depressing, examples of how quickly people seize a cheap opportunity to hate each other. Which, incidentally, is why it's so easy for media to get away with lying; people embrace anything that feeds their prejudices.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eric Nicolas

      This magazine is hardly "journalism", any more than a cook book is.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Angela

    A bigger problem is that it's clear this magazine is endorsing these foods and recipes...while not actually have ever tested them. If they had, they could take pictures of the dish. False advertising and unethical? Yes, I think so.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Eric Nicolas

    Suddenly the food in their magazine looks really appetizing.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Hugh Jerekshun

    I'm trying to figure out why I clicked this link. Hmmmm?

    April 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. BOB

    Geez, how long do people really spend undoing all those panty knots?

    April 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. BOB

    BTW, for those of you who know nothing about animal classification, humans are primates, not carnivores. Primates are omnivores.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ed

    I got some meat on a stick!

    3 different kinds

    yummy, anybody want BBQ, all this talk is making me hungry

    April 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Dalmo Accorsini

    Our Magazine Nutricula "The Science of Longevity Journal" uses stock photos also, they are quality work and reflects our editorial just fine. Take a look this month's Cancer Issue. http://www.nutricula-u.com

    April 16, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Sherry

    Children children. Simmer down. All this juvenile bickering!

    First, humans are OMNIVORES, not carnivores. And unlike true carnivores, such cats, we don't require meat to survive, we just require the correct blend of nutrients, and eating meat makes that easier to achieve. Give a cat all plant products, and specifically no taurine from meat, and they will eventually get sick and die.

    Food articles should be illustrated with pictures of the recipes given, so we can see if they LOOK tasty. Stock photos of some OTHER food doesn't tell us anything and are, in my opinion, offensive for that reason, not just because they include some specific forbidden ingredient. THAT is the deception I am bothered by. If they are offering recipes, somebody should cook the food to see that the recipe is indeed worth writing about, then somebody should take a picture. Food bloggers all over the internet do a lovely job with that and manage nicely without an in-house professional photographer.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Scott

    Don't see any many vegans posting on this one. Most everyone is devouring other people. I think that makes most of you cannibals. Anyone agree?

    April 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Ed

    i used to work at a restaurant and many cooks and waiters as jokes put meat products into every order that the people were specific about no meat products...........your eating meat and just dont know it....

    Jokes on you

    April 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Josh

      That's why I rarely eat at restaurants.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Hilo, HI

      I used to work in a pharmacy...we'd punch holes with a pin in the condoms, then seal the box back.
      Then I got a job in a hospital......maybe the next jokes on You, Ed.

      April 17, 2011 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. David M.

    I don't think it's unhealthy to eat a balanced diet of veggies and meat. And anyone with a brain knows to eat more vegetables than meat. I think the word is moderation. Some meat with more vegetables seems to be a balance for me, and less red meat than other types. I think some folks don't understand the idea of a little common sense when they eat.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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