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. where's the beef

    Don't be so bitter vegans are dumb.
    It ain't gonna happen. The population of healthy meat eaters outnumbers the other set.
    Don't lash out reflexively over prejudice.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • vegans are dumb?

      I'm not bitter. Just observant. Where's your proof? I just have to walk down the street to see mine.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. lololol

    That's hilarious. Vegans are weirdos anyway. We were meant to eat meat. That's why we have sharp teeth and flat teeth.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • vegans are dumb?

      Let's see you kill a cow without a weapon. Just your sharp and flat teeth. Now....go!

      April 16, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • just me

      If you can knock them over when they sleep (cow-tipping), then you can surely kill them with a big stick!

      April 16, 2011 at 3:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Takali

      If Ozzy can bite off the head of a bat, I'm sure I could tear into a cow.

      Om nom nom!

      April 16, 2011 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
  3. Musical Cowboy

    ♫♫♫ I am the Musical Cowboy ♫♫♫
    I love to write songs
    This is my wrap
    I wrap to live
    and wrap to love
    I am the musical cowboy

    April 16, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. Robrob

    "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." – Excuse me, how flipping hard/expensive would it be to either photograph the actual dish prepared by the vegan receipie or to NOT SHOW A FAKE PICTURE???

    April 16, 2011 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  5. skrilla gorilla

    Vegans are weak, pampered people who can afford the luxury of being food snobs while thinking they are saving the world by denying their own animal instincts. Just the truth. The reason this is even a big story is because they cant stand it that they have been salivating over pictures of MEAT! Meat looks good. And tastes good. And is what you need to eat. Your body and mind knows it.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      I am vegan and I am a food snob. I am an excellent cook. No one has ever had a bad thing to say about my cooking. Yes, it is a luxury and I feel privileged that I have the means to enjoy it. Don't blame vegans because you have to order from the 99 cent menu from fast food restaurants.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
    • M

      Uhh, my grocery bill significantly dropped when I moved to a plant based diet and I buy organic whever I can.

      Also, I eat pretty simply, lots of produce, whole grains, beans and some nuts... doesn't sound snobby to me. In fact I'd think someone's complaint would be that diet is boring – although I'm happy, so don't knock it until you try it. Yes, I like to go out to eat from time to time and truly love a great gourmet vegan restaurant. But I felt the same about wonderful meat based meal too.

      These sterotypes are really frustrating... learn something about the people you're stereotyping before you jusge!

      April 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1389AD

      The other problem with vegans is that their digestive tracts produce a lot more gas.

      Just one more reason to shun contact with vegans.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. vegans are dumb? is dumb?

    Vegans are dumb? We also have brains that allow us to use big sticks that can kill cows!

    April 16, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • vegans are dumb?

      Touché. I just wouldn't and couldn't.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. where's the beef

    Still no reason to dislike or wish ill on meat eaters.
    Not disparaging non flesh eaters in any way.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • vegans are dumb?

      I wish ill on the people (businesses) who are propagating the early demise of the planet by exploiting the unfounded belief that human beings need meat to live. Our planet simply cannot sustain the billions of people living on it if we continue eat the way we do. I get you were raised that way, I really do. I feel sorry for people who think all they can afford is processed crap. But, trust me. There are other, healthier, even cheaper alternatives out there. I know it's not what you are used to, but suck it up. There's a bigger picture to think about.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
    • pumpmar

      im curious as to what that other more affordable option is. it doesnt sound like im going to like it. is it dirt? grass? urine? i kinda am interested in wondering what YOU think i can feed a family of 4 for under 10 dollars a day. now go and start doing the math...

      April 16, 2011 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
    • CW

      So you're saying if one person has a contagious disease, you would execute them so others don't get sick? No, you fix the sick individual, in this case the industry; you don't toss out half the natural diet.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:40 am | Report abuse |
    • vegans are dumb?

      @pumpmar Rice, beans, flour, herbs, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. All cheaper than processed crap. We're a family of 5 on one income and we're doing fine without ingesting massive amounts of salt, preservatives, saturated fat, high fructose corn syrup and sugar. It is a choice to opt for crappy convenience over healthful choices that take a little more preparation.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. thegreasefire

    I must be doing something wrong then since I cook and take pictures of the dish instead of posting some istock photo on my cooking blog. But really, why trust the recipe coming from someone who has obviously never cooked the dish if he/she is looking for stock photos.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  9. Paul NYC

    I like vegetables and sometimes go days without eating any kind of meat. However, I have no use for vegan spare ribs - the thought of what they might taste like disgusts me.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. RJ Quinn

    is this really the world we live in? such a shame... crazy nutjob people.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. teej

    Okay, does ANY advertised photo of food look like the actual product? Seriously. Whether vegan or not, I think we know that the lovely pictorial portrayal on the box/packaging of the item, TV ad or other promotion, pretty much never matches the finished product. I have a hard time understanding the importance of this "issue," as long as any recipes or ingredients included or listed are truly vegan.


    April 16, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. dan

    how dare they take a picture of meat?!!!...sinners

    April 16, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  13. Doug

    The VegNews is between a rock and a hard place here. They certainly wish to show images of meatless dishes, but they really don't have the budget to get there 100% of the time. They're forced by conditions to use stock photos. Does this in any way detract from the recipes themselves? This isn't as bad as that petroleum industry group that used stock photos of people who they claimed supported their agenda when the truth is, those people didn't even know they were shilling for clean coal or more drilling of oil in ANWR.
    Not really. I may not be vegan or vegetarian (I'm a carnivore), but I am my own cook. I don't need to see pictures of the dish I'm preparing, I just need a good recipe. If the illustration does a good enough job of showing you what the finished dish looks like, that should be more than enough.
    You think VegNews is the only organization that makes mistakes?
    I've seen so many episodes of Modern Marvels on THC and so many things on The Military Channel that contained little errors, I've given up.
    So, discount the picture and concentrate on the recipe itself next time.
    Or you could send VegNews $1,000 so they can hire a photographer to take professional pictures of meatless meals.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  14. Pete in NYC

    Vegans, save for Jains, are morons. Why is this a story?

    April 16, 2011 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
  15. Joe

    Looks like anyone will sell out their own people for financial gain.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
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