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. jorge washinsen

    If you hit Bambi at about 70 miles an hour on the interstate you will become part of nature and understand it more especially about meat.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. Victoria

    Not surprising to me, since the founder/publisher, supposedly an animal rights activist, threatened to harm his former wife and her cat. He's a hypocrite, finally revealed to the world.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    To all you who are supporting these actions need to seriously look at your morals. The main problem with this, and their are many other ethical issues, is that being a food magazine that is specializing in Vegan Foods and recipes and using stock or doctored footage of photos that use meat just leads the reader to believe that the particular recipe or food story will look and therefore taste that good. It's fraudulent and wrong. If you want to show me or convince me that I should become fully vegan show me good vegan foods. I understand those of you who say oh well it's not a big deal. Ethically it's wrong and the magazine should do a better job. These days anyone can take magazine quality photos with an SLR camera and a nice lens and a little practice. It would give the magazine more quality photos of stuff that is actually relevant I will be boycotting this magazine and suggest that we take a stand and stop all the lying in advertising we see these days. We have to start somewhere

    April 16, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. Irish potato gun

    The fact food photography usually involves a a fake piece of art work instead of the actual dish, goes to prove that marketing and advertising is a brain washing fraud. In the words of the great Bill Hicks
    "By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising...kill yourself. Thank you. Just planting seeds, planting seeds is all I'm doing. No joke here, really. Seriously, kill yourself, you have no rationalisation for what you do, you are Satan's little helpers. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show."

    April 16, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dee

    Oh wah, wah, wah! It's not like they're actually eating the pictures.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  6. Victoria

    Among the founder's/publisher's quote advocating violence against women: "Nicole Brown Simpson got what she deserved."

    April 16, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  7. Lisa

    I'm a happy, stock photography shooting meat-eater, but there is really a very viable solution for the magazine. There are LOTS of photographers out there, with the talent to produce pictures suitable for publication. Here's what they do: have a section of their website where they publish a couple recipes each month, months before they are to be featured in the magazine. Ask people to make the recipes, photograph them, and submit the photographs for review. Whosever photograph gets selected for publication gets the photo credit and a cash prize (say, whatever they would pay for a stock image, usually at least $50 for publication in a widely-circulated magazine). There'd be plenty submissions to choose from, photographers love those photo credits.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  8. BloodSausageSandwich

    A vegan friend of mine will not now appear in photographs because she is made of meat. Power to the Plants!

    April 16, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Will

    Vegans are insane. I think we should eat them...

    April 16, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. Will

    You know, one day, when civilization collapses, Vegans will have a choice: eat meat or die. Some will eat meat. Those who refuse will die. That's evolution...

    April 16, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. Will

    Who doesn't eat meat? Crazy people. That's who doesn't eat meat...

    April 16, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  12. BloodSausageSandwich

    Fellow Vegans: This fierce and weighty intellectual debate has created for me the following moral quandry, so please help: Am I allowed to be photographed in my "Hug a Vegan" T-shirt even though I am made of meat?

    April 16, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      You are what you eat.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  13. johninmemphis


    April 16, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jeff

    Frauds, Pathetic Frauds. Journalism, Publishing, Advertising and Marketing are all a sham and the people involved in these fields are without ethics. As a citizen I am growing quite tired of our law enforcement agencies not doing anything to people who defraud the public.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. Joey

    When I was just old enough to walk and pull a little red wagon, I had a pet chicken who lived in a coop in our back yard.
    His name was "Mighty," for mites.
    I often put him into my wagon and pulled him down one of the few streets of our Southern town.
    One day my mother served us fried chicken for lunch (called "dinner").
    After I ate, I went out to see Mighty.
    His coop was empty.
    I think that I called him before I want back into the house and asked, "where's Mighty?"
    My mother asked, without affect, "you know that fried chicken we just had for lunch?"
    I think it was my parents' way of teaching me something about mankind's use of lower animals.

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