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. ranger

    Vegans are retards...That is all.

    April 16, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Could you please post the IQ scores of all the vegans in the world? Thank you.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:31 am | Report abuse |
  2. Michelle

    Omnivores:

    You know how you would feel if you were sitting at a foreign table and realized that meat on everyone's plate was DOG or CAT? Well that's how ethical vegans feel about ALL animals. You may not understand it- but that's how it is.

    We live in a world where we are bombarded by imagines and smells of meat everyday! Even,in the privacy of my own home, I am flooded with images of carnage through TV commercials and radio ads. I understand we live in a meat-eating world and it's because of that I, like many of my fellow vegans and vegetarians, held Veg News near and dear.

    It was a trusted friend. Emphasis on WAS.

    April 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ThisGuy

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

    Really!?

    Oh no! We've been violated by images of yucky things...except the yucky things have been edited out...and they're not really that offensive in retrospect...

    -I despise asparagus, but you don't see me starting a crusade to end its depiction in media that I frequent. These people need to get over themselves, and news agencies need to stop reporting non-events.

    April 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Zeke

    Hey Popeye – go eat some spinach

    April 16, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit

    Veganism is merely pop religion.

    April 16, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Yes, and we worship Seitan.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  6. David

    OMG, sue to close the magazine! The humorless and the self-important are people too...

    April 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bill

    Ohhh...awful...terrible..meat is so bad....

    Wake up people....humans EVOLVED to eat meat....I eat meat every day, but I do vary the species.....they are all so tasty!...If I die a few years early because of my diet so be it...at least I enjoyed the journey...

    No back to my delicious beer...let me meat feast begin!

    April 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Christine

    I'm vegan. I'm happy and healthy. I don't force my life choices on others or even talk about it unless asked. I don't see why so many commenters see this article as an excuse to hate on each other. Many vegans don't support PETA, are not pale/sickly, are not sanctimonious, and are really good cooks!! Veganism is about embracing a lifestyle that tries to limit the harm done to other species and the environment. I don't see what's intrinsically wrong with that idea. Time to learn to be accepting of others and not use the internet as a place to dog pile on a group that you don't agree with.

    I subscribe to VegNews. I think it's OK to be upset that they use pictures containing meat or dairy to represent vegan dishes. It's disingenuous! I'm not canceling my subscription, but there are lots of vegan photos on iStockphoto they could have used. There are also lots of food bloggers who would be happy to share photos of their recipes. VegNews just chose the prettiest, most convenient picture to put under a recipe. If you claim to be an ethical vegan (i.e., reject animal exploitation) publication, then you should walk the walk. No one has really brought this up, but VegNews also didn't credit any of the stock images, violating copyright law! I think they probably did this because they wanted readers to believe these are genuine photos of the food and they didn't want anyone finding out what they were doing (not testing food and misrepresenting recipes). I think most readers of VegNews would have been happy with a genuine apology, e.g., "We're sorry we upset so many of you. We'll try to be better in the future," and not the "apology" they provided, which was "oh, we can't afford to buy photos and you guys made us sad because you caught us in the act and called us on our crap".

    Also, don't see why this is newsworthy enough to be on CNN. Seems like they just did it to get vegans and omnis to battle it out in the comments section. Mission accomplished!

    April 16, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Awesome

    Hey Vegans..... EAT ME!

    April 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      No thanks. Vegans don't eat animals.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. Christine

    Sorry, I don't understand why people are even arguing about why we should/shouldn't eat meat based on human evolution. Yeah, we can eat meat and evolved to be able to eat it. That doesn't mean you have to. If you don't want to eat meat, that's ok! Just because your body is designed to do something doesn't mean you have to. I'm female and I'm designed to have babies essentially once a year from the time till I hit puberty until menopause. Does that mean I should have 30 children???

    That evolution argument seems like a red herring. Veganism is for many people an ethical decision. Telling me that my body is capable of eating meat seems like a non-issue. No one has said that we're *not* supposed to eat meat but rather that they have ethical issues with it and can get adequate nutrition without animal products, and that *too much* meat/dairy/eggs can be bad for your health.

    April 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. GetaLife

    Whoever allowed thia article on this website should be FIRED! This is a RIDICULOUS story to even waste 65 seconds of your life to comment on. Can't believe so many people don't have anything better to do. to CNN, I WANT REAL NEWS not this CRAP! I'm out before I go over my 65 seconds....a waste!

    April 16, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      You wasted your own time by typing that up.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. GetaLife

    THIS IS NEWS!!!!! Is this really CNN? Whoever allowed this article to appear here should be FIRED Not wasting another second here I'm out...

    April 16, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jan Scholl

    I think the big issue here is the deception. I buy several vegetarian and vegan magazines (I am vegetarian but I cook based on what is in my house). I don't normally bother with the photos as I am more interested in the ingredients when I search for recipes. When I concoct a recipe of my own, I take photos of the end result. I may tweak a photo to lighten or darken it or even crop it, but I would never try to pass it off as vegan if it wasn't. I would never tell someone it was a photo of an animal based soup or stew or whatever. Because it won't be. If whoever submits the recipes to this magazine can't provide a suitable photo, then get someone withing the magazine family to go home, cook the recipe and take some photos. It's not at all impossible to take a decent photo . I am not a professional photograher but my photos are good enough for my blog and the reviews I write for the local newspaper website ( I do not get paid a penny nor am I re-embursed for expenses). A magazine would be more embraces if they did use their own employees as the photographers. You get too glossy, you chase away the very people you need to sustain you. With this particular controversy, I suspect readership will go down and no one will trust for a long time. It may even have a trickle down effect to other publications in the genre.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Nadine

    I'm still amazed at how cuckoo people can be. I guess you can't mess with another person's obsession. But this is nuts! Was the recipe vegan? Then what's the big deal? "Get your barf bags ready?" Is this person still on the loose?

    April 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. angie

    As a vegetarian and a former vegan, I have to say "who the F cares?!" Does it change what you have eaten? Does it make you a closet meat eater? No. Get over it. There are actual problems in the world.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
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