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. TheBlueLion

    I love how meat eaters get so defensive and like to resort to the same old, unintelligent comments:
    "Meat tastes gooder! I eat cows!! Haha!"
    "Vegans r pasty and sick!"
    "PETA stands for blah blah that I saw on a tshirt at walmarts!"
    "But you needs proteens!"

    I personally support your efforts to uphold the land raping beef industry by shoveling trash into your fat-american face with good ol' burgers at Mcdonalds. Please, indulge yourself. Its what evolution intended! A triple-thick milkshake and 2 for 2 big macs!
    Good luck with the quad-bypass and colorectal cancer!

    April 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Damien

    omg no wai!!! Personally I dont see the beef here pardon the pun. As long as the recipes were veg/vegan what is the real issue and they were being responsible and true to the nature of being a vegetarian. My ex was a tried and true vegetarian for years, but would fix me steaks and chicken. It's not as if ppl bought a meal that claimed to be veg but was chock full of meat.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rhettisadlar

    I'm a vegetarian and I can't possibly imagine how looking at a picture of meat can possibly be a big deal. Must be hard to leave your house with all of those burger billboards and I bet watching TV with Beef ads is devestating... Seriously? It's people like this who make it hard to be a vegetarian and are the primary reason people look at me like a freak when a midwest guy in a truck doesn't eat meat. These people should be soaked in beef broth. 🙂

    April 16, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sara Jane

    As a Pharm.D. and CCN, the best way to to stay off lifelong medications and live in America is to stick to a plant based diet. I don't care how you do it, what you call it, or what your 'belief' system is. I'd rather you, as a patient, were healthy and took some initiative to prevent lifestyle acquired diseases than take needless medications. Cheers.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      You're cRaZy if you think your credentials and academic diet certifies health status, assures quality of life , and a determinate for longetivity of life...go back to school...

      April 16, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. kgirl

    This 'sound off' is so funny! Thanks for the 'entertainment' !!!!!!!!

    April 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Vegan Master

    I would be very happy to stop being vegan if it were legal to kill and eat all the idiots who posted anti-vegan bs here! Hmm, a retard steak!

    April 16, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jojomonkey

    Are you Kucking Fidding me!!!!


    April 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rob M

    I am not surprised that we have waited this long to hear about this. That is because they do not have the energy to do anything about it.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. rktman71

    I don't give a rats you know what what anyone else does or doesn't eat. It makes no difference to me what our ancestors ate, what god or mother nature intended most humans to eat, bla bla bla. I'm a vegetarian, not a vegan, and I can't fathom why anyone would care one way or the other if they use stock photos of meat containing stews, pastas, or whatever. Really, how can anyone manage to find the energy to care about this? It doesn't affect your dietary choices, do it?

    April 16, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Moonraker

    God, who cares? Vegetarians are so annoying. Why does eating have to be a philosophy? Life is short, why spend it restricting your eating? Meat tastes great, your loss. Enjoy depriving yourself. What are you going to be opposed to next, air?

    April 16, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Moonraker

    I had a huge cheeseburger last night and it was delicious. I feel sorry for those who needlessly avoid such pleasures over some stupid philosophy. Someday you will die and the world will not care that you spent your life avoiding eating animals. Why bother?

    April 16, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • meatpie


      April 16, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bama

    I'm not vegan but I don't blame these people for being angry. I don't buy all of the excuses, either. Heck, have a staff member make the recipe, take out their Coolpix and shoot the damn picture. Problem solved. The picture quality might not be great but at least it wouldn't be a lie.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sarah Deming

    Sorry CNN, this is old "news". It's been all over the veg/veg (vegetarian/vegan) sites for many days.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Trals

    This is absolutely hilarious to me. I can't believe someone is outraged over this, that is like being outraged because your burger at McDonalds doesn't look like the picture. Really. I am a female and I am glad I am not that damn petty.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kraas

    Those sick freaks, how dare they eat poor defenseless vegetables.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
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