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. recycled grocery bag

    I'm vegan and while this does make me a bit saddened I also realize that we should be supportive of other vegans and groups that try their best. I'm not against what quarrygirl did, I think it's good that some people know, however I can also see the from the point of view side that thinks this is detrimental to us.

    I have also noticed a lot of defensiveness from omnivores, and I'm sure vegetarians too, aside from the real topic here. This isn't about who is right or wrong or about if humans are omnivores or herbivores.(Personally I think we were given the choice to be either, but that's just me) However, I do encourage people that are omnivores to at least look into veganism from multiple websites that explains why one would want to go vegan. Many people just don't know why one would ever even think of going vegan, I mean, it's so ingrained in our society. I had no idea either when I met my first vegetarian, but when I found out later on my own, it made more than complete sense =)

    --with love
    recycled grocery bag

    April 16, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • recycled grocery bag

      I thought I would just add what gremlin mentioned because it does add clarification as to WHY some vegans would get upset.

      " I think if you read the original blogger post, the person made the point that these photos were made with real beef, so that using these photos was putting money into the pockets of people profiting from animal slaughter." –gremlin. They are supporting people that make these stock photos and by supporting them it's supporting factory farming. I completely understand why some vegans are upset. As I said before, it makes me rather disheartened too and I'm glad quarrygirl brought this to light for some that do want to know. However, I still want to think good of VegNews and support people that that do their best with promoting a veggie diet.

      With Love
      –recycled grocery bag

      April 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gina

    I knew I shouldn't have read the moronic comments from omnivores here. Too few are enlightened enough to see what's really going on here-fraud. Instead, everyone's gotta start hollerin' about 'crazy vegans,' and how food better moo when it's eaten and other such stupidity. Too few omnivores can hear or see the words, 'vegetarian' and 'vegan' without losing any sense of intelligence they had before. Get a grip. Your food is tainted with antibiotics, fecal matter, and is sprayed with harmful chemicals to keep it looking fresh in the package. It's also sprayed with incurable viruses to kill bacteria that could make you sick. Oh, the irony! Don't take my word for it, though, look into it for yourselves. To the few omnivores here who get it-thank you. Thank you very much, and I wish you longevity and happiness.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I get it. Most American food (including produce) is crap. Literally and figuratively. To me, the point is knowing where the stuff comes from. There are the industrialized animal Auschwitz's that we call feedlots/ factory farms, the cardboard tomatoes designed to be shipped but not eaten. The issues of ethical treatment of animals, environmental sustainability, and human nutrition ARE connected.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. there are no gods!

    so what?

    April 16, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. blessedgeek

    Vegnews and USPS commit the same indiscretion. Lazy dependence on stock photos.

    Ref: The new Statue of Liberty philatelic accident.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jennifer

    Dogs are omnivorous.

    That is all.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Thanks for that tidbit of knowledge.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  6. B-Dog

    I think the publisher's of this mag are admitting very clearly that it's not easy to make a vegan dish look appetizing in a picture. Gotta put some meat into it to get the mouth watering....

    April 16, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Actually, they were just being lazy. They should have taken their own pictures.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jyn

    It really isn't that hard to make a recipe and then take a picture of it- but the fact is these magazines are on tight deadlines to produce content before print and they dont have time to do that to everything. That is why stock imagery is so valuable.
    If you go to any website that offers content like a magazine does, you will see pictures representing those topics. Those pictures may or MAY NOT neccisarily actually BE THOSE things. Just like the actors on TV pushing Viagra may not actually be on it. Heh heh.
    Im a stock photographer and I shoot a LOT of pictures of myself because Im readily available. The MAIN topic my images are used for? Teen pregnancy. Yup, and guess what? I've NEVER been an unwed teen mom. I happen to LOOK really young and be pregnant often enough to make good content, which works for that market- but are the viewers being misled because the woman they see on the poster really was never a teen mom? Not really- it just symbolizes and represents a topic and the important thing is the topic- not the image.
    My only issue is that the designers are careful with the content and subject matter and how they line up. Vegans are Vegan usually for a cause. It would be the same if someone was reading an Alcoholics Anon magazine with a picture of a guy drinking a nice glass of Applejuice... only to find out it was taken out of a stock photo of a guy in a pub drinking beer. So the point ISNT that they didnt use the image of the exact recipe- the issue is that it was an offensive image due to the subject matter. My 2 cents. 🙂

    April 16, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. CoryJean


    The majority of the Indian population is Hindu, which refrains from eating meat for religious reasons, basically respecting all life. Yes, poverty plays a part too, as in every culture. Indians are HINDU and VEGETARIAN. I suggest you research it so you don't sound so ridiculous and then you will actually learn something instead of attacking.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jennifer Gordon

    I wonder what would have happened if we did not killed and eat the animals that are supposed to be eaten? Cows and Goats would all be running around in our living rooms. They care about animals more than they care about people. What would have happen in some remote African countries where they don't get any rain for M-O-N-T-H-S? and there is not a single crop. What should they do? just lie dead when the animals are running around having a field day? God command us to " kill and eat" Are they God? to defi his instruction. And about fur- the first piece of clothing that was made was from an animal. Adam and Eve were covered with the skin of an animal when they discovered there nakedness, after they sinned against God. so I guessed if they want to have a Beef – Go have it with God.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Farm animals are forcibly bred to produce the massive amount of them that people demand. If people quit eating meat, they would quit breeding them and there would be significantly less cows, chickens and pigs. To think they would overflow the land is juvenile. I do not know of any bible passage where God says to "kill and eat". He gave humans domain over the land and animals. Just because you are in control does not mean you should abuse it. And that's just from a religious standpoint. Not everyone believe in the bible. All I know is that we are all animals. Yes, humans are just another animal on this planet. We are just the smartest of them. Somehow that makes most of us think we are superior and we take advantage of our abilities and enslave other creatures. The human race is pathetic.

      April 17, 2011 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
    • John Waters

      In those 'remote African countries' you're talking about most people, especially the poor, eat very little meat. Meat is hella expensive there; raising animals for meat is terribly inefficient everywhere since, obviously, animals have to eat many times there body weight in food (mostly grains that humans could eat instead) before they are slaughtered. In fact, most of the world eats little to no meat because they just can't afford it.

      April 17, 2011 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      Genesis 3:6-7
      6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

      Also never heard of God commanding that people "kill and eat" unless you're referring to the passage in which God is showing that all animals are clean. If anything, eating meat is permissible according to the Bible, not mandatory. Unless you have citations, don't attribute your own beliefs to the Bible.

      April 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. thirty3na3rd

    I've got no "beef" with that.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chop or Stick

    I agree with Meatpie who posted at 7:43. I ran into a person one time who tried to sell me on being a vegan. I asked him the question of how many vegans were dead? He said he didn't know. I said exactly. When newspapers publish obituaries, they list cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, accidents being car or pedestrian, etc. They have never, to my knowledge, listed that a person was dead because he or she was a vegan or the dead person ate meat. I know someone who is supposed to be a vegetarian but is over 200 pounds and has high blood, diabetes, amongst other things as side affects to the medication they take. I eat meat but not every day but more chicken and seafood than red meat and very little pork. I feel fine.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. J

    get a freaking life, this is news...please!!!!!!!!!!!!! guess vegans never see cows in fields, that is meat..........or never go to stores where they sell meat

    April 16, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Peter Griffin

    Wack Jobs

    April 16, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. EataBeet

    Am I the only one who thinks this is just very, very funny? And I had tofu for dinner tonight, and it was good.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Beelzebub

    I see a lot of opinions on this post and as I read I am reminded what a wise old man once said.

    "Opinions are like armpits, some are pretty okay, and some stink."

    Fact of the matter is, researchers are becoming ever more certain the majority of difficult to explain diseases are result of eating animal flesh. Countries that have a low consumption of flesh food also have a lower incidence of those illnesses. The human bowel IS longer than that of outright carnivores. Even though we humans DO have canine teeth which suggests we are designed to be omnivorous, we don't have the short bowel of canine-feline critters to quickly move that rotting meat out of the bowel as fast as they do. So our bowel system is not a good compromise even though we seem to have the teeth of a tiger.

    Several auto immune diseases are now highly suspect as caused by animal products. Multiple Sclerosis is one I have been made aware of. Other forms of arthritis are now also suspect.

    Fact is, there IS a lower incidence of heart disease and high blood pressure amongst those who eat little or no meat. That is a fact, not opinion. So chew on that.

    I am moving toward vegetarian as I am becoming aware of the problems I listed below.

    Animals consume a great deal of food in order to prepare them for market. That food would be better served if fed directly to humans. There would be less pollution and waste of materials.

    Better look at the new army of bacteria making their move into the meat supply.
    Soon eating meat will be like playing Russian roulette with dirty Harrys' big, bad .44 magnum.

    I'm just now finishing my last bowl of chicken noodle soup. It sure tastes good, but I wonder what was in it that I didn't want.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
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