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.

Post by:
Filed under: Food
soundoff (708 Responses)
  1. Bozobub

    Yes eating farmed meat is relatively inefficient. Yes, meat is murder, in a way.

    I'll have cheese on my murder. Mmm, murder...

    Thing is, I've never met a truly healthy-looking vegan or macrobiotic dieter.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • anon

      Here are a couple 🙂 (Bob Harper, Biggest Loser trainer)

      April 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      Then I guess you never met me...

      April 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. thies

    so the magazines staff doesn't consist of vegans who'd try out the recipes before printing where they could easily snap a photo or two for the article? 'all options exhausted'?

    April 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Nick

    Is it just me or does that chicken breast soup look really good? Thank you CNN for this article, I now know what to make for dinner tonight 🙂

    April 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Con Carne

    Vegans are devo.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Devo is a progress rock band most famous in the 80s. They had several hit, most notably one called "Whip It". Devo is still together and performing concerts.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mick

    Lots of stupid people getting upset about nothing!

    If you know anything about professional photography, you know that food images are always artificial; real food (whether vegan or not) isn't used, because many photo shoots can last for hours, under hot photo lights, and the subject has to look identical in every shot – real food won't do that, it'll start to turn, the colors will fade, and the food particles (such as in a soup or stew) may actually move. What you're all actually looking at, for example in the photo in the story, is a bunch of colored plastic or styrofoam pieces,, suspended in a gelatin or colored plastic "soup". Likewise, the parsley on top and the produce at the top of the photo are undoubtedly plastic as well.

    So, in reality, it's no more a ""veganized Brunswick stew", than it is a"chicken breast-soup-stew"; it's a pile of colored hydrocarbons. Satisfied?

    Dear Jesus, people dying the world over from hunger, and we're arguing about our PICTURES of food? Can we please have a minimum I.Q. level to engage in public discourse?

    April 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Jesus is a fictional character, just like Santa Claus. Praying to him does no good. That's why natural disasters and diseases still happen every day. And the cruelty that happens to billions, yes billions, of animals every year because people demand meat. If Jesus were real and a good person, he would tell us to stop the insanity and be kind to animal, not hurt and kill them.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer

    I LOVE vegans....mmmmm.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. vel

    this is just too funny! I've also always wondered why vegetarians and vegans seem desperate to make their food look and taste as meat-like as possible. One would think that if they are so sure that their diet is the right one, they'd get over that.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Riverwatcher

    Can anybody say DUMB? Both the woman who got her panties in a twist over a picture of food–and whoever decided this was news.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Rocha

    I do not understand anything about photograph business but the picture shown as an example here in this report, you can barely notice that there is some chicken there. Ok, it would be extremely horrible for vegan community if they publish a dish with a huge piece of steak and a backed potato. But if they were presenting these kind of "mimic" pictures, I do not see any problem with that. How many pictures for instance we probably saw of a purse that they write which is made of leather and it is not. Or even the "fantasy" pictures of Macdonalds where you see that wonderful burger and when you order, it is that horrible flat sandwich. Pictures are illustrative, they are not supposed to reflect the reality exactly.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. puprplepuppy

    Cows, sheep, deer, chickens, and fish. They are in the Bible. Yahweh gave them to us for food. Eat up Y'all

    April 16, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bill

    Interesting discussion...once a person looks past the mutual insults. As a person who grew up in Canada's high arctic, I lived with people who's daily meal was primarity meat. Whether Caribu, Moose, fish fresh or dried, etc. There where next to no vegitables or starches. Most lived very health lives, with little in the way of health issues. My sister, a full blown vegitarian, has had thirty years of chronic heath problems, injury, missed work, as well as her teeth turning black. I say to each camp, enjoy yourselves and leave the other in peace.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. yourmom138

    I love how anytime there is a news story that has anything to do with vegans or vegetarians, all you knuckle-dragging $h1theads have to chime in about how stupid vegans and vegetarians are and how tasty meat is.

    Here's a crazy idea. Why don't you shut the f#%$ up and mind your own business? None of your business what somebody else eats or how they live their lives.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Clif

    oh NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!

    April 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Paul

    And we wonder why politicians cannot be civil and work for the benefit of the American people!
    Vegans/Veggies you have nothing to justify. A diet without animal products or animal corpse is perfectly healthy, even the FDA(if you dare believe them) says so. There are and have been Vegan/Veggie cultures throughout history.
    Meat eaters if you feel that consuming the dead flesh of animals is OK, have another bacon double cheeseburger. Do not worry about the effects on your health, the planets, or the torture and suffering of sentient beings, enjoy your burger. Remember what you are eating is not, for the most part, a free range natural animal. It is the product of hormones, drugs and unnatural and inhumane conditions – not at all the animal our forefathers ate.
    When you evolve you'll know.
    In this and all things: If you do not like it, do not do it. Do not interfere with another s enjoyments or freedoms. Your Karma is your own, so own it!

    April 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Vegan Mom

    I'm a vegan (who doesn't have pasty skin, is free of mental disorders, and has enough energy to raise three kids while working full-time and running the occasional half-marathon), but I don't quite see what the big deal is here. Cook books and recipe websites normally use pictures of "food" that has been shellacked or sprayed or otherwise altered to look appealing – that doesn't alter the content or quality of the recipes. I regularly use recipesfrom VegNews, and will continue to do so despite these pictures.

    April 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      somebody rational, thank you

      April 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25