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. JJ

    What a gaggle of fools. Barf bag because of a picture of a stew with meat? Better yet, get your appointments with your therapists ready. Talk about idiotic.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  2. Angelo Corcione

    Tempest in a teapot. Seriously, who would get their panties in a wad over this? If only people put so much effort and concern into being better people, helping others, and minding their own business, the world would be a much better – and sane – place. Grow up and adopt a useful hobby. Or at least, try not to be a pimple on the ass of progress.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. Amber

    I was 240lbs (at 5'1), had high blood sugar, polycystic ovarian syndrome and god knows what else when I decided to become vegan (for ethical reasons, at the time I had no clue about all the health benefits) sense becoming vegan I have lost 100lbs, my blood sugar is within normal range, and there are no traces of me ever having the polysystic ovarian syndrome. I have also had my blood levels ran to make sure my b12, iron, triglycerides, and all that other good stuff was within a healthy range and every thing came back great. And my brain development is just fine, I recently graduated college with a 3.9 gpa.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Munch2

      Logic must not have been one of the classes you did well in. Correlation does not prove causation.

      April 17, 2011 at 3:04 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dave

    Humans are omnivores. we shouldn't eat much meat but it is healthy to have some. Try something elegant like a deer or seafood, not some slob of a animal such as a cow and you will be alright!

    April 17, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  5. frozen robot

    when you go to something like Denny's, look at the menu ~ that's usually not actual food in the pictures. Vanilla Ice cream is generally mashed potatoes, eggs are plastic and milk is standard white glue.

    Vegans, with their holier than thou, emaciated outlook on diet, are the only people who have a problem with this. Although I see PETA going after iStock now for abuse of chicken imagery.

    This species has amused itself to death.

    April 17, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. Charlton Heston

    Soilent Green is PEOPLE!!!! IT'S PEOPLE!!!

    April 17, 2011 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      You just gave away the ending of the movie. Way to go...

      April 17, 2011 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. RB2

    All the crying over a picture because it has meat in it? I guess I could see the tantrum caused by this but its a bit petty if you ask me. If the articles are written in a way that's informative to those wishing to learn more about the lifestyle while providing some entertainment / information for those who are already accustomed to the lifestyle I dont see the big deal.

    Lastly, its kind of hypocritical to adamantly preach how moral being a vegan or vegetarian is because its murder when a plethora of trees are cut down so you can line your birdcage with these magazines when your done.

    If this company was smart they'd get out of the magazine business and abandon their ungrateful fans. Besides, time and time again I encounter vegans and vegetarians that not only practice their lifestyle but try to convert other people, like a religious cult of sorts.

    If people dont want to eat meat that is their choice. It should be left at that.

    April 17, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  8. Scar

    I was born at the top of the food chain and therefore eat meart as part of my diet. If meat was all that bad for you the AMA would be condemning it all the way. My doctor WAS a vegan. I was at his funeral last month. He was diagnosed with a brain lesion last year. It seems that vegans wind up with a tendency toward brain lesions after many years of a no-meat diet. There are proteins in meat that the body needs that a vegan diet will never give. He was told by his doctor to eat a little meat now and then. He refused and we buried him. I knew him for over 20 years.

    I was born at the top of the food chain – to eat meat and not graze like a cow.

    Oh – before I forget. I wonder if any vegans in really cold climate wear gloves. Just so you know they come from animals. In fact all leather products come from animals. I'd like to see a vegan in International Falls wear gloves and boots not made from leather. Especially when it is -30 outside.

    April 17, 2011 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. RB2

    If being a vegan is what humans were intended to do, how would any of them survive in the wilderness say if the vegan were to survive some form of disaster. Berries and nuts will only get you so far and unless there is some magical seeds that can be found and planted, then harvested in the same week, I'm not sure any vegan would be able to survive long enough to eat nothing but plants.

    Humans have been hunting for eons to survive and they're not going to stop now. In today's society this lifestyle works for some people but truth be told, if humanity in general were all vegans, we would have been extinct long ago due to over population of other animals.

    I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the vegan lifestyle but I will say that dietary diversity is what causes humanity to evolve and live. The stagnant lifestyle that refuses to change and adapt will never evolve. It will stay just as it is until something greater, willing to evolve and adapt comes along and proves its dominance. I'd rather be the predator than the prey.

    April 17, 2011 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. Kevin

    I eat chicken, turkey and fish, but I think vegans are very noble. They eat a much healthier diet, and they contribute far less damage to the environment. I've tried to go vegetarian but haven't been successful...but I commend those who are vegan + vegetarian.

    Yes, humans are 'naturally' omnivorous, but that means little. The Internet isn't 'natural' either, and yet here you are reading this. Speaking of reading, that's a relatively modern development. How 'unnatural'. Electricity, also, is 'unnatural'. So is indoor plumbing. And clothes. And medical care. And our industrially designed houses. So, unless you want to run around a forest, desperately searching for food to bring back to your little mud hut, you shouldn't be talking about how veganism isn't 'natural'.

    April 17, 2011 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  11. Whatabout Thebunnies

    What's next, the boobs in Playbe are fake? Say it aint so Hugh....

    April 17, 2011 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Boobman

      Who cares if the boobs are fake, just that they are this steak I am about to eat.

      pass the spotted owl too.

      April 17, 2011 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. Vegan This

    For every bowl of veggie soup that you cry and whine about, I am going to eat ten pounds of delicious steak and a side of spotted owl.

    April 17, 2011 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. Judgmental Omni

    mmmmmmmm.....spotted owl is delicious.

    April 17, 2011 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
  14. Eco-Man

    Really...being vegan is an environmental thing? For every veggie you eat I will drive 10 miles in my gas guzzling SUV, run over any animal in the road, toss plastic out the window for the animals to choke on and eat an extra serving of meat.

    I'm hot. I think I will crank down the AC and open a window.

    April 17, 2011 at 3:20 am | Report abuse |
    • John


      so you're a pathetic loser, what's your point?

      April 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Movitar

    @frankdavis, I got an iPad2 for $281. Look they cost $829 by apple and this site claims 90% off so it was a lot more than they said but with a $548 saving it was still awesome…But I think the offer is only in the US and Canada at
    ok back to the article...

    April 17, 2011 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
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