Vegan magazine in a stew over meaty stock photos
Vegan blog accused 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,, 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 with photographs from royalty-free image service, iStockphoto. One example shows an image of a "veganized" Brunswick stew recipe from and an identical image from iStockphoto titled "chicken breast-soup-stew-pepper."

"Get your barf bags ready!" 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, 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. Rich in NJ

    The real issue is that this is fraud. Do you know how much trouble a food company gets in if the picture on the box or in a commercial is not of the actual item? They make dozens of dishes to get one that looks PERFECT for the camera ... but it has to be the actual item or the FTC will have something to say. I've been around the test kitchen of a food magazine, and they make many batches of a recipe just to get one to photograph. Putting a photo in a magazine to illustrate a recipe that is not an actual photo of a dish made from that recipe is FRAUD.

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

      But it's only legally fraud if part of an advertising campaign.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich in NJ

      Jodie: but in this case, the fraud is that the magazine is being sold under the pretense that it has a recipe for the pictured dish – and it doesn't. What's being sold fraudulently is the magazine itself.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JKT

    The false indignation vegans show to meat eaters at the dinner table is showing itself in this case as well. You LOOKED at a picture of meat? Wow, you must be SO damaged from that. COME ON!!!

    April 16, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  3. LH

    I've come to realize that, during difficult times, some people will become absolutely rabid over the most trivial issues. Is it because it's the only way they can feel as if they have some control over something, anything?

    April 16, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  4. tomas

    I I appreciate vegans right to be vegitarian but science dicates we were NOT naturally so. If we were we would have a much larger chest area and our dental structure would be different. We would still spend 90% of our waking hours grazing the plains of Africa and walking upright would have become unlikely. Civilization would still be in our future. We owe everything we are to the animals we have eaten. I guess some of the blame then lies with them too.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • jodie

      How about trying to use your non-vegan dental structures to go tear into a live animal and see how that works out for you?

      April 16, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  5. Sandy

    I cry shenanegans on this one. I've taken digital photos for clients and so have ALL the art directors I know. All you have to do is make the dish and take a picture of it. IF the dishes are really worth shooting, that is...

    April 16, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  6. Joe Laque

    While I can certainly enjoy a good ol' fashioned hamburger it does not bother me at all if someone chooses to be vegetarian.The way I see it is that is their choice but I am surprised at all the hate and anger coming from many that post their opinions in whatever the subject may be.This just tells me that many adults have never really grown up,

    April 16, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. cpc65

    There is a T-Shirt that reads, "For every animal you don't eat, I will eat three!"

    April 16, 2011 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. Paul Ives

    Big oops! My niece is one of those borderline insane individuals who think that just because the carrot does not complain it does not feel when it's ruthlessly torn from the ground... I think we all need to stop eating anything organic and simply drink in the amino acids and chemicals we need to stay alive. Then and only then will we not be killing something that once was alive. Of course, we should kill off all animals as well, since they are killing/eating living organisms as well!!!

    April 16, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. Connie

    Evidently some animal activists are so busy fomenting disagreement rather than reaching out to change society's carnivorous culture to a more plant-based "Green" one. I am a long-time animal activist and a vegan. We have made great positive changes over the years for animals, society and the environment but obviously we still have a long way to go. All of us quibbling over photographs is not it. I remember years back when 2,000 people marched down Fifth Avenue in New York to protest fur led by Bob Barker. Fur was the "rage" then and today fewer people are wearing it. Veg News are our friends; lets applaud their good work and stick behind them. Not get in a stew over a few pictures. Gotta go, I have real positive work for animals to do.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  10. Gen. George S.Patton

    I'm an Omnivore. Yummy!

    April 16, 2011 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  11. Scott M

    The magazine's heart is in the right place. After all, they are not slipping meat into a recipe. Theses are about using photos. And those photos are doctored so as not to offend the beliefs of vegans. Professional photography – both in the US and around the world, contrary to what a few European postings would want you to believe – is very expensive, difficult, and time consumming. It does not just happen. And if unprofessional pictures were taken of the food as is was made it would never attract readers. Look at any food pictures....from restaurant chains to vegan or non-vegan magazines, to newspapers, to web sites....they ALL are profesionally done. So lets give credit to the magazine for trying to find a middle ground in it offerings and cease the attacks by saying the magazine is trying to forward a meat-based diet. Also, I think this just points out there is a market out there for a vegan photographer who may wish to offer his or her services pro bono or at a discounted rate for a cause he or she believes in.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  12. Brian


    April 16, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  13. St. Louis Publisher

    What about a standard credit line that simplies identifies photos as "stock." That way, readers will know that the food pictured likely isn't a pure vegan recipe. As many other posts have mentioned, the art of food photography is often created using non-food materials, so technically, we are all being duped to an extent every time we read a food magazine, blog or grocery store ad. In the spirit of full disclosure, EVERY food photograph should be accompanied by a disclaimer that acknowledges "this photo may contain some non-food materials and actual finished results may not look the same."

    April 16, 2011 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  14. Kat

    Vegans get all upset over 'meat eaters' yet they are making fun of them, their health, their weight, etc..... stereotyping. Yep. You are sooooo much better. As far as the "murdering animals" excuse, that is utter BS. Do you realize HOW many field mice, rabbits, snakes, gophers, moles, foxes, spiders, birds etc..., and other wildlife are killed just to plow a field to plant, and then again to harvest? But those animals are probably considered 'throw away'. Let's all go vegan. We can just loose the cows, pigs, lambs, chickens, turkeys, etc on the pastures as well. Oh wait, now we need to care for them because they aren't wild and don't fend for themselves. Lets plant more grain. And they breed more fields. More "throw away animals" killed.....Oh and lets not forget the natural predators now coming after these "freed" domestic animals. We need to spend more money to figure out how to protect them and keep the 'wolves' at bay. If you want to be vegan for personal health reasons great. If you enjoy meat, that's great too. To each his own. But don't even try to convince me you do it "for the animals". That's the biggest case of lies and BS you could ever come up with and I'm not that stupid. If you bought into it for that reason, maybe you need to rethink your priorities a bit and remember the cute fluffy bunny that died with her nest of babies to provide that "veggie burger" you just took a bite out of.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. Brian

    Oh,yeah,-remember all that fun you had as a kid playing fetch with your pet cow? Or teaching the family chicken how to talk? Yeah,me neither. Because it's called a food chain.We have deer basically living amongst us here about 10 miles from downtown St. Louis.And it is not because we have ran them out of anywhere.The economy here in Missouri is so bad that we aren't building squat. I counted a pack of 28 deer once walking across a softball field.They could have fed a homeless shelter for a year with that. Wake up

    April 16, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
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