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. Corvus1

    As a carnivore I am offended by all the plants I have to look at every day. So there.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Why aren't you on tour? You're hilarious (please insert rolled eyes here).

      April 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blackstrider

      You're a carnivore? You ONLY eat meat? I doubt that.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. kaleigh

    Being a vegan and stock photographer, this is hardly anything to get worked up about.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  3. gremlin

    @NeTMoNGeR–I agree with your general tone, but I don't know that it would necessarily be much better place. There are some advantages to veganism, but the difficulty in maintaining it and raising a child on it (as you obviously know) points to the fact that humans naturally have an omnivorous diet. As I see it, it is the OVERconsumption of animal products that is the main problem along with over processing. It leads to the packed farms that usually have the horrible conditions, we underutilize land (the 1/10 energy conversion rule) and it leads to health problems (kidney, cardiovascular, liver.) We could all do with eating more whole foods and a lot less meat. At the same time, a vegan diet isn't necessarily overly healthy if done wrong. Many vegetarians I know rely on processed things like texturized proteins, and lots of things with a ton of preservatives. Rather than actually eating healthier many (not all) just eat like they used to and just throw a fake chicken patty or sausage link in there. There is also the issue with pesticides on crops that would increase as mass consumption of vegetables increased.
    As the population grows, the solutions get more complicated. But rather than cursing at each other and just hurling insults, I prefer to have a conversation (which is the part of NeTMoNGeR's statement I mainly agreed with). I read the original complaint about VegNews on the blog from the article and although I agree that there is a problem (I actually have a problem with putting anything other than a picture of the actual dish on a recipe), the person's approach was more like a ranting child than an adult with a legitimate complaint. I can only imagine what the post that VegNews removed consisted of, because as I saw the blogger didn't post their post that was removed. There are enough issues with nutrition and education, angry rants and insults don't help. Yes we are omnivores, but you can be vegetarian. Yes vegetarian is probably in general healthier, but there are vegans that have died of cancer young and there are 90 year olds walking around that eat meat or animal products almost every day. Enough with the agendas, enough with the anger and insults. Focus the energy on learning how to balance our diets whatever our food choices are.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Smiley

      Amem, Gremlin. A. MEN.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      LOL, I was thinking "Amen, Gremlin, amen!!" when I scrolled down and saw that exact reply. So... here's mine too:
      AMEN, Gremlin, amen!!!
      I do think many humans eat way too much meat, probably myself included, although my husband and I don't eat as much meat as he'd like.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jazzzzzzzz - something fun for everyone

    I have been craving more fruits and water lately , dont know why but does fruit have less of these parasites?

    April 16, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. TheMystery

    See what being unnecessarily picky about our food leads to???

    April 16, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  6. PoDunk

    I told a vegetarian one time that I eat thing's that eat vegetables. Wonder how she's doing. 😉

    April 16, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. The Truth

    Way everybody sees it, Jazzzzzzzzz, you have come on the blogs and caused more bs than any other blogger here. What is you problem? Are you jealous of the other women here? Or are you just trying to land a man? Quit talking s*@t about other people. You’ve done it before with other people, and now you’re doing it to Banasy. What, do you think she doesn’t read your comments? You’re an ass. Grow up and start acting like a 46 year old woman instead of a 7th grader. And stop chatting so GD much. Just. Shut. Up. You stupid B@@tch

    April 16, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. Rod C. Venger

    Have you never heard a carrot scream for mercy as it's unceremoniously yanked from it's earthen home? Never heard an artichoke yelp as you peel it apart, seeking it's tasty, non-beating heart? Or the howls of the orange as you peel the fragrant skin off it's body? We at least dispatch animals in as quick a manner as possible. Not so our victims in the plant kingdom!

    Fruits and Veggies have rights, too!

    April 16, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • LB

      Wow, Rod, never heard that joke before.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. vegansympathiser

    I'm not a vegan in any respect, rather a voracious omnivore. However, I can appreciate the outrage. If your goal is to champion a lifestyle, you should do it honestly. The photos of the dishes in their publication aren't accurate representations of the dishes at all. When readers attempt to make them, they will be disappointed that they look nothing like the dishes in th mag and perhaps become discouraged. They are performing a disservice to the community they pretend to support. Yes, industry practice indeed, just like airbrushing models. That doesn't make it right.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Oh My

    Uh, look. Let's just be honest here. Nearly every photograph and piece of imagery in the media is altered to the the point where it doesn't at all represent the original. Look at the scads of model mag gaffes where hips or thighs were airbrushed away only to leave a very noticeable piece left. Ice cold glass of lemonade is room temp, with silicone cubes and a mixture of water and glycerin dripping down the glass. That ear of piping hot corn with melted butter is ice cold while some assistant holds a hair dryer over it to make the butter melt. Stop confusing the one picture used to pretty up the page with the content. Has any one seen Oprah without makeup? Hello!?!?

    On a side note: What with this all vegan staff, all vegan pics by only vegan photographers? I think people would be super mad if I started a magazine and said, I will only hire people who drink orange soda. I can see making an effort to promote your views, but can you really NOT hire someone based on their food consumption? That seems to be a more "meaty" story here. (Pun DEFINITELY intended)

    April 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frostka you really think a non-vegan would be interested in working for a completely vegan magazine? This isn't a vast're just an idiot.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Frostka, they explicitly expressed their desire for a vegan photographer. That is completely different than happening to have an all vegan staff. And you should probably stop questioning everyone's intelligence, it doesn't reflect very well on your own intellect.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Frostka, as a photographer and an omnivore I would gladly work as a vegan food photographer for a vegan company. As long as they pay me to do the job I'm not going to care.

      So, yes, it is more of a story that they would only hire vegan photographers.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      I think you are right that the real story here is the lack of honesty and fairness displayed by the magazine's management. If you don't have the money to make professional quality photos just leave them out - don't fake them. Why would the reader want to look at a picture of something else and be deceived by you? Printing fake pictures is a disservice to your readers.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      I don't think they said they would only hire a vegan photographer, only that they'd like to find one. Yes, it's a fine point, but I would like to think they'd hire a non-vegan photographer to shoot vegan food if they were hiring, which I don't think they are.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tewrobert


    April 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Oh My

      So eloquent.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mayhem

    non news

    April 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blackstrider

      And yet you read it AND commented on it.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Protein

    Speaking as one of the few intelligent people on this planet, people who forsake meat and say meat is unhealthy have the IQ of the average Twitard. Humans are designed to be able to eat and digest meat, so you vegans have no right to try and get other people to become unhealthy cows and goats just because you care about the dumb animals. It's called the food chain; get over it.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frostka

      You're intelligent? Really? Hmm. And I suppose every single vegetarian in India (and there are rather a lot of them) is a raving loony idiot? Please. Just because you don't agree with the choices of someone else doesn't mean you need to roundly condemn them. They aren't hurting you.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Shinea

    Some of you "Vegans" are getting as upset as the anti-Muslims on Fox. Chill out! If you ate a little meat you wouldn't be so angry all the time.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anevay

      They are depriving themselves of what they physiologically really want. They can't control it, its nature. They want meat! Imagine a baby who hasn't had a bottle for 8 hours, well this is just like vegans.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. steven harnack

    It's a freakin' picture of FOOD fer crisake. Do you think that the Ben & Jerry's that you see on TV is real icecream? It would be soup in seconds under those hot lights! It is more likely mashed potatoes. Hint to vegans: You're not supposed to eat the pictures, you're supposed to follow the recipe!

    April 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
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