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. Josh

    Rejecting meat is essentially a genetic dead-end. Scientific studies have shown that our brain size began to increase around the same time our ancient ancestors figured out how to cook meat. Cooking meat helps break it down, making it more easily digestible, which in turn means our bodies do not have to spend as much energy digesting it. This freed-up energy could then be expended on other things, namely our brains. Our bodies have become specialized to the point that raw meat is like hitting the breaks of our evolution. Abandoning meat outright is tantamount to putting our evolutionary track in reverse. The whole vegan movement irritates not because I disagree with ethical treatment of animals and animal rights (quite the opposite) – it annoys me because it's irrational behavior.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Klaark

    I can't stand vegans. They the most self-righteous group of wackos out there, including the Bible thumpers.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. tomotallmadge

    Who cares? Get a life

    April 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Toni

    Seriously, I wish I had so little to worry about that I could put emotional energy into magazine photos. For chrissakes.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hal Jordan

      So true! Best post on this board and it was only 2 sentences. I can't figure out who the biggest goofball is, the people posting on this board or me for wasting 10 minutes reading them...

      April 17, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Munch2

      Amen, Hal Jordan.

      April 17, 2011 at 3:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. Kent Bowen

    Don't confuse magazine content with journalism. For that matter, there are plenty of "news" outlets that don't practice real journalism - just the facts, ma'am. The local newspaper often runs stock/wire/old photos with current news stories that don't fit the subject. Of course, they aren't practicing journalism, they are filling space with a visual. That said, an editor's note might be appropriate when the photo/graphic isn't really what it seems to be.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Hal Jordan

      Great point actually. This has nothing to do with Veganism, Hinduism, Omnivorism, or STFUism. It is about the integrity of the publication. Editor's note is absolutely the correct thing to do in this situation. Or, maybe, just not include a picture. Or do something cool like Cook's Illustrated does with their images. Get some art school intern to draw something up for the resume experience.

      April 17, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  6. BlackYowe

    Mmmmmmmmm even Vegans know the power of the flesh! Yum yum, life without meat is like a day without sunshine...

    April 17, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
  7. Joe Labriola

    What's the problem? Advertising is all about selling things that aren't really what they are. And vegan food sucks – they need all the help they can get.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. Dee

    Some of the comments here are so cruel and heartless towards animals. They might want to remember – we are all animals, whether we are human or non-human. Try a little kindness and empathy. I don't understand their hatred of vegans or vegetarians – why hate people who are showing love and kindness to other animals? It doesn't make sense.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Anger toward vegans is usually a knee-jerk reaction because people know in their subconscious that killing animals is unnecessary and you can live a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle and be healthier in the process. Vegans are a mirror that reminds them of what they are doing harms animals, ruins their health and destroys the environment. There are no drawbacks to being vegan or vegetarian, only positive effects. Except for all the hatred you get from meat eaters.

      April 17, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
    • andy

      @Josh: I can think of a few drawbacks to being vegan – for example, you become an insufferable, preachy, holier-than-thou asshat and no one can stand being around you.

      April 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wabbit

      Dee, your forgetting the difference between us animals and the rest. Its something you apparently lack. Its called a brain, and ours is the only one that is developed enough to actually comprehend the world. (Besides maybe dolphins) While its clear we do not want to foster sadism in the human race I would gladly torture a thousand animals to better humanity in the slightest. Everything points to the fact that we need/are helped by meat. Evolution shows that the consumption of meat is what allowed us to climb to intelligence, and the bible-torah-koran all state that animals are created to serve us (read
      be eaten by us in this case) While no one wants toxins loaded in our food, just like no one wants toxic medicine,
      you do not simply ignore all medicine. This being said, ironically I am a vegitarian as maintaining a diet light enough to achieve a prosis reaction
      through calorie limitation would be nearly impossible to do with the consumption of the fatty meats generally availible.
      Please pardon my spelling. RW

      April 18, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. could still be vegan

    technically, if it is made with the meat of vegans, can it also be called vegan food?

    April 17, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  10. zse

    I can't believe there was an article about this, that people actually read it, and the discussion deviated to Vegans vs Non-Vegans.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Nusrat Hussein

      The only thing tastier than cooked meat is uncooked meat. Have you ever ate raw intestines. Tastes good with the fatty deposits.

      April 17, 2011 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  11. Psychedelicious

    Vegans, the pinnacle of intolerance for others. I once worked with a Vegan crew at a meat-serving restaurant. Not a pretty sight 'here's your dead pig sandwich, sir'... but the appalling thing is they felt justified in stealing from the establishment. Apparently their elevated ethical standards include being hypocritical criminals, so long as the victim of the crime is not Vegan.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Sounds like tall tale to me. A whole crew of vegans working at a restaurant that serves meat? What are the chances of that? Being so unprofessional as to say "dead pig sandwich" to a customers? And stealing from the restaurant – well, that's the most believable part of your story. Everyone is different and all the vegans and vegetarians I have met have been tolerant of omnivores. It's the meat eaters that are not tolerant of vegans.

      April 17, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. edvhou812

    Vegans are nuts. Just another sign of over-population.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Over-population is a serious problem. The biggest problem I have with that is the fact that intelligent people tend to not have very many children. It's the less intelligent people who pop out tons of kids.

      April 17, 2011 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  13. icemanN4

    You whiny vegans. I was born with and still have sharp K9 teeth in the top and the bottom. Geneticly, these were
    made to "Rip Flesh". WE ALL were put on this earth to eat meat. Deny it all day......fight your human you
    know it's true.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Good for you. When was the last time you took down and animal and killed it with your bare teeth, like other animals do? Oh, you haven't ever done that? How do you get your meat? Oh, I see. In a styrofoam container at the grocery store. Awesome way to present biology and evolution as an argument.

      April 17, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. Viper

    "The pictures we've been drooling over for years are actually of MEAT!" she charged."

    You're "drooling, and there's meat involved?

    On some planets, that's called a free clue. ;-p

    I'm a PETA member!

    P eople
    E ating
    T asty
    A nimals.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. RAS Dandley

    Yep, and you have the vegans that were just arrested for starving their baby to death by feeding it only momma's breast milk which was missing NECESSARY nutrients for the child. Way to go Vegans, now you are killing your own babies. I'd rather kill a cow and eat (and live) than starve my child to death by not providing sustenance.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Suntrap

      You're wrong. They wouldn't feed her breastmilk. The baby was on a diet of fruit juices, nuts, oils, seeds, etc. The point was they were not breastfeeding the baby. Doubtful there was anything wrong with the mother's breastmilk.

      April 17, 2011 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
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