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. owlvan

    I think it's more of a good example as to what the using stock photos has done to the quality of publications in general. Magazines that commission good custom photography often do better than those that use stock photos. Believe it or not even your casual readers can tell the difference. Even if the content is, fresh, informative, and of high quality it gets treated as filler and less credible simply becuse its by the same picture of a goldfish in a bowl of water that has been seen in ads and magazines for 6 years now.

    If a food magazine can't provide a photo of the actual dish they have published a recipe for how can you believe that the recipe is not just copied from the web and any claims about its taste and nutritional values are not just made up as well?

    April 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jill

    VegNews is a GREAT magazine that has no doubt changed the eating habits of many people, for the better. If their articles have saved animal lives, they've done their primary job right there. And if this incident results in VegStock photos, then they've upped the ante again! Their hearts have always been in the right place.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. j

    To our Vegan friends: Welcome to Earth!

    Dead animals are in everything you use, see and touch. Your skin is crawling with tiny living animals. Your intestines are teeming with them. Your fecal matter is 40% living matter.

    You can't escape it. The vegan lifestyle is ridiculous self-delusion, ego pampering, and idiotic.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • desert tripper

      Wow, that straw man is so big, the Big Bad Wolf might blow it down!

      Vegans aren't obsessed with the bacterial content of their intestines, brainiac. They follow the lifestyle for certain reasons, including health, animal welfare, and environmental stewardship. (I am not currently vegan but eat pretty low on the food chain nonetheless, chiefly for ecological reasons. Not only am I not emaciated or malnourished, I could actually stand to lose 20-30 pounds!) One of the main reasons for at least cutting back is the modern factory farm, where steroid- and antibiotic-filled animals wallow around in their own feces and urine (little to none of which is treated or disposed of in a sanitary manner.) Not only that, they are fed diets that in no way resemble what they eat naturally. It is very fossil-fuel intensive (78 calories of fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food energy from beef.) It is not sustainable long-term.

      Intestinal bacteria aside, with so many good vegetarian/vegan food options available, cycling perfectly good food through animals on the way to one's dinner plate makes no sense at all.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. B

    See, I said at the beginning of this ridiculous non-sense, I said it last night and I'll say it again: all this fuss just made us look like the stereotypes that judgmental omnis see us as. All it did is prove their point. (See above comment.) I was ashamed of my vegan community for this. We supposed the ultimate in compassion and we can't have any compassion for our own people. It was disheartening and it made me sick. I celebrate people who do their best. Vegan, vegetarian or just trying to be healthier. This was counterproductive and set our cause back. Which means that ultimately the ones who suffer are the animals. Shame on the QuarryGirl and her followers who got so worked up in this stupidity.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lean6

      You do realize that "omnivore" is a species tag that you can't shed no matter what you choose to actually eat...right?

      April 16, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      exactly, the human body was made ot digest both vegetables and meat. You can't change your species. No matter what you are a member of a species that eats meat and vegetables.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • al

      for debate's sake:

      if the human body was made to digest meat...tell me why you have to pluck or skin your meat...then cook it to eat it so you don't die. you can't go tear the leg off a zebra. i mean, you can...but you eat that and you are, well, most likely dead meat, sir.

      we don't have any teeth that are meant to 'tear meat'. that's one of those reiterated statements over the years that people pass off of as fact...when, it's not. our incisors ain't nothing like a dog's incisors. we have very flat teeth...molars good for grinding.

      my cat can go kill a mouse and eat it. and he lives yet another day. you go kill a mouse and eat it (raw, my friend)...and you may not live another day.

      if you have to pluck your food, skin it, debone it, and saute it in some butter at a temperature that kills any pathogens, i don't know...i have a hard time believing your logic.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Simply because dogs incisors are pointier, and better at tearing meat, means nothing. Dogs are carnivorous animals. Humans and primates are omnivores. Our suite of evolutionary changes enables us to maximize our ability to eat both simultaneously, and at the same time, prevents us from becoming "the best" at either. Comparing a human to a dog is like comparing a football to a frisbee. Yeah, you throw them both, but they are specifically designed to perform differently.

      As far as foodborne ilnesses, there have always been parasites and pathogens that are ingested by animals. The reason we die is because we havent developed immunity. For thousands and thousands of years, we have cooked our food. The immune system responds when it encounters a familiar pathogen. If it is unfamiliar, it dosent respond as quickly. We do our best to elinminate pathogens, and as a result, havent got the immunity to fight them. (as a side note, in some cases, immunity can be passed from mother to child).

      The complex nutritional requirements of humans can be filfilled by eathing plant material alone, however, to acually do so is much much more difficult than if one were to take in a healthy mixture of plant and animal priducts (keyword healthy). I do feel that in the US at least there is too much emphasis on meat, however, everything in moderation.

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

      For debate sake, why don't you eat an entire pumpkin or squash whole and without cutting it up or cooking it.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Get off your soapbox

      Go out to the woods, grab a hand full of unidentified mushrooms or berries and see what happens.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Oh My

      You don't really HAVE to cook meat. Many, MANY people eat raw diets. Also, um...sushi anyone? Meats and veggies alike are parasite ridden. Cooking simply makes your food safer. Why do you wash your broccoli? Why do we pick and choose the parts of the plants to eat? Why can some plants only be eaten after cooking? Your questions and "points" are as applicable to animal flesh as to vegetation.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hammer

      Humans can eat raw meat without any site affects. Cooking only improves taste and kills bacteria that can be present after sitting and or preserving. Our teeth are for both meat and plant material. If you look they are not completely one way or another. Hence the omnivorous term. Sorry, but you don't know as much as scientists with doctorates that studied human anatomy for decades. Such uneducated people.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chop or Stick

      Going back to the beginning of time, the wild animals didn't have a way to cook their meat. I bet if you give it to them cooked they would still eat it. As for today's pets (which is a different subject) I have read where people will go to the store and buy chicken and fish go home and cook it for their cats and dogs and mix it with vegetables and rice to help them digest it better. Now some people a d saying that your domesticated pets should be vegetarians and vegans. If human or animals are hungry enough and starvation depended on eating meat, I say fire up the grill.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • jodie

      Source? Cause the human digestive tract is nearly identical to that of gorillas, who are vegetarian (vegan).

      April 16, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Clark Nova

      Human digestive tracts are even more identical to those of swine and bears, both of which are omnivorous.

      April 16, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1389AD

      We're actually a lot closer to chimps, and chimps eat meat.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      No. It's a cultural tag.
      Just because we can, doesn't mean we should, or we have to.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr.Cranky

      Bravo to you, B. Most vegans I know are frothy, wild-eyed fundamentalists. You, on the other hand, seem rational enough that I'd gladly make you some yeast gravy and cruelty free biscuits without a second thought. Tolerance begets tolerance, in some version of the world.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric Nicolas

      Agree. People don't hate vegans.It's people who are intolerant in the way they promote their personal belief systems that are the problem. If I'm not a member of your religion I really don't want to hear about how I'm going to Hell because of it.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • donna

      I agree. An ex-friend of mine who was vegan actually stopped playing volleyball because the balls were leather. She expected me to quit as well, but I didn't. When we'd go out to lunch, I was supposed to eat her style. I'm vegetarian, but sometimes a few dairy bits slip in there. End of story, end of friendship. Intolerance is at the heart of all problems.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sheep Dog

      Donna , Thomas Jefferson said it best.

      I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend

      April 18, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      I totally agree with you. This was uncalled for. This is not a vegan message. I also think what the blog owner did was wrong, and did it for her own gain and publicity. We will overcome this.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • annie smith

      Don't be ashamed of Quarrygirl. I am an omnivore, and I am extremely impressed by VegNews honest response. It is still the beginning of your movement and they are at the forefront. Anyone can see past her motives.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • CalgarySandy

      Beginning of a movement? People were doing vegan and macrobiotics in the late 60's. I was a vegan for years after than but had to stop for healthy reason. I did a term paper in Moral Philosophy in University on veganism in 1975. I believe it is around 1%of Americans are vegan and 2% in the UK. That's significant.

      A sensible reason for not eating beef is that, like all ruminants, they belch methane and are a bigger problem in some ways than cars. Termites eat dead wood and also release massive amounts of methane. The South American rainforests are being cut down for raising beef. Termites, who will not touch live trees, move it for all the wood chips and dead trunks. We do not need to eat as much beef as we do. I know people in the US who make no bones about the fact that they only eat meat and nothing else. Enjoy your colon cancer.

      April 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • meatpie

      At 60 my colon's fine and if I die from eating meat, well, at least I enjoyed myself tremendously. We're all going to die anyway. No reason for you to get judgmental about it.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frenchy

      Good point!

      April 16, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr.Cranky

      +10. My food ethics aren't yours, I'm not going to try to make mine yours, and you don't seem to be interested in making yours mine, either. Epic win.
      Hand-wringing is always hilarious when it's true believers (of any stripe) doing it.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Jazzzzzzzz - something fun for everyone

      Wel said. It is better to lift and inform those who are trying to eat healthier.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Rod C. Venger

      Suffer from elitism. much?

      "I celebrate people who do their best"

      What about the rest of us? I have cancers...two that we know of so far and this after a bout 12 years ago that took two years to physically recover from. I eat whatever is fattening and protein laden because if I didn't, a puff of wind would blow me away. Taco Bell and Burger King are my are Lessour peas and bananas and walnuts. These aren't cancers caused by eating trash, they are, without exception caused by too much sun exposure worshipping the sun god as a kid and then again spending my days in the garden or out in the sun building my 8,000 sq ft greenhouse. Back then there was SPF 4. What a joke.

      You seem to love only those people who are just like you...which makes you a racist, a bigot and a number of other things that will lead you to a bad end. "Love thy neighbor" wasn't just a suggestion.

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

      "judgemental omnis"? Now THAT was stereotypical.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Troy from S'port

    lame excuses....all they need is a $50 digi camera and someone with enough gumption to cook up the recipe at home and snap a shot of it.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • ummm...

      You've obviously never worked in publishing. A $50 camera with a home-cooked recipe will get you a photo that looks somewhat like an amorphous blob. A $5,000 camera with plenty of expensive lighting equipment and a professional photography studio will get you closer. Plus, if you think a watched pot never boils, try watching it when you're on deadline!

      April 15, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • thegreasefire

      I admit that my first pictures look like crap, and mostly because I wasn't publishing something on a news website, but a personal blog I don't get paid to work on - that doesn't mean the pictures HAVE to look bad. Today I actually went through all the trouble of trying to make the food look pretty when I took the picture (though it still looks like something that you'd see cooked at home instead of an over-decorated fine restaurant dish) and it doesn't look like an amorphous blob. The camera was a Christmas gift and is probably worth around 100 bucks. Also, a lot of stock photos look so good because they were prepared to look good - many times it isn't even what it is supposed to represent, kind of like ads of hamburgers. I personally don't look at cooking magazines or cook books and just prepare what I think tastes good and of course, with a little care, you can make sure the chicken doesn't fall apart when you move it out of the oven and place it on the plate, or the potatoes are cut neatly for presentation. And the good thing about pictures is that if you mess up somewhere, you can always just cover it up and take the picture from another angle.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  6. JC

    "Yes, from time to time, after exhausting all options, we have resorted to using stock photography that may or may not be vegan."

    Really? They mean to say that in a worse case scenario, they STILL wouldn't consider making the dish themselves and taking a picture? What a horrible excuse. Wouldn't it have been better to have simply come out of the closet and admitted "Well folks.... after 10 years, it turns out that we really like meat after all, and frankly wouldn't touch the tasteless stuff we've been pushing on you with a 10 foot pole." They could follow it up with a study linking modern brain mass to the consumption of meat, a quick sidebar on the purpose of those canine teeth we all know and love, and then maybe an expose on the best beers for your beef BBQ.

    Personally, there's nothing I like better than a nearly bleeding chunk of steak fresh of the grill. Know where your meat comes from, know how it gets to your table, and if you're okay with that, eat. When the raising and butchering is done properly, the only ethics problem I run into is whether or not to use A1.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    It's people!!!!!!!! lol. Anyhoo it's just a mistake. I have to say some of those "Veggie burgers" look good too, but I've never liked the taste much. Nothing wrong with someone liking the looks of a food. So long as they aren't going out and eating a cow mistaking it for a carrot or something then who cares?

    April 15, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joey

    "...the planet would be a nicer place?". ((With a vegan diet))
    Not for me would it be a nicer place, if we all ate a vegan diet.
    I'll continue to eat animals, thank you.
    I like the way they taste.
    I enjoy chewing meat. Beef is my favorite, but I also like pork.
    I adore veal.
    I choose animals. Y'all dig into the soy beans.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • desert tripper

      Better have a good medical plan, Mr. Meat.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jointgifts

    Why on earth is this front-page news? What a shocker, a magazine uses stock photos!

    April 15, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joey

    Do you think that stupid people or criminals would be as tasty as cattle?

    April 15, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster

      prolly vegans – they're grass-fed...

      April 16, 2011 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mnlara

    independent or not, the magazine lied to their readers. simple as that.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Calvin's Dad

    Such important breaking news, and yet SOMEHOW life goes on...

    April 15, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. GoRobGo

    Stupid Vegans. Go back to Vega.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      You are lucky that you are human and not a cow, chicken or pig. If you were, your comment would be much different.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. John Lawson

    Vegan is good if the cook knows what they are doing. So many don't.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SilverGST

    There is a reason why we are on the top of the food chain

    April 15, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Sorry, but "we" are not on the top of the food chain. Humans are definitely a prey animal, which is one of the major causes for our evolution as a social species with cognitive abilities. With tools we are a predator, as a pack we can be predators (also still requiring tools), but as individuals of a species we definitely rank below animals such as lions, tigers and bears. Hell, Steve Irwin got taken out by a stingray, and Jack LaLanne got taken out by pneumonia. The food chain is more like a circle, and we definitely have organisms on both sides of us.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:32 am | Report abuse |
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