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. eldono

    Did they think this would never be found out?

    April 16, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. Andrew

    *gasp* stock photos! Must unsubscribe to the magazine, that'll really show those meat eaters a good thing or two when the only big vegan publication goes under!

    I'm not going to be vegan, well, likely ever, but in respect to the soon to be dead magazine, killed by the only people who care, I'll stay away from meat tomorrow.
    Actually I was planning on doing that anyway. Two straight days of greek style lamb burgers and my body craves veggies.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. Andulamb

    I'm not a vegan, and my usual reaction to that "lifestyle" is to think it's silly. That said, I'm not going to automatically take sides against them in all situations. If we meat eaters were to discover that our favorite cookbook contained pictures of foods made with dog, cat, and horse, most of us would be disgusted - to say the least. And so to mock vegans for being upset about the depiction of meat in this magazine is hypocritical. I understand why the magazine's editors did what they did, but it was still wrong. Vegans don't want to see pictures of food that include meat, and furthermore they want recipes to be accompanied by accurate photos. Isn't that what we all expect of our cookbooks and cooking magazines? It would have been better to use an ordinary snapshot of the actual food, even if it didn't look as pretty as a professional photo.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. gytg

    vegans are mor ons

    April 16, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  5. Meat lover

    Haha. Who cares. Seriously. Seems like more important issues should be making national news.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
    • fiskenmann

      Seriously! If vegans hate meat, what veggie do they 'roll in the hay' with?

      April 16, 2011 at 2:23 am | Report abuse |
  6. craig

    this isn't an opinion piece on the merits of eating meat or not, it is about deception. Keep on topic. The magazine was wrong to do what it did.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jenna H

    ...if you are eating things like "vegan spareribs" that are made to look like and taste like an actual sparerib, why is it offensive when its an ACTUAL picture of a sparerib?? Weren't you trying to eat a sparerib.. kinda?
    Doesn't make any kind of sense.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
  8. pee

    LoL i used to work at a butcher shop and kill animals by the hundreds daily i find humor in this

    April 16, 2011 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. sean

    this is a news article...on cnn? is it just me or has cnn been slipping in quality coverage over the past year? more positive stories, less fluff, and more empowerment to the people who read pretty please.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
  10. pee

    lol what jokke i used to kill both pigs and cows daily every 12 seconds how do you feel about tht peta

    April 16, 2011 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. SS

    Contrary to popular belief, it's the meat eaters who are the ones telling others what to eat. I have yet to see some vegan or vegetarian smack a burger out of someone's hand or snidely tell off a stranger. On the other hand, the meat eaters make the same lame "People for Eating of Tasty Animals" joke and get on bash the veggies every chance they get. I say live and let live, let people do what they want. Want to eat meat, do it. Want to be vegetarian or a vegan, then do that.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:31 am | Report abuse |
  12. pee

    do wshat makes you happy if you like meat eat it

    April 16, 2011 at 2:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. WJP

    They were dishonest..............So what? What else is new? Almost as bad as PETA. I am a firm supporter of PETA! (People Eating Tasty Animals!) Right next to the mashed potatoes!

    April 16, 2011 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Fiona

    Vegetarian here. Most of the food you see in advertisements isn't edible, and may not even be food. Food stylists use the most godawful things to create tempting images because real food tends to look pallid in photos. so why would anyone assume that an editorial photo of a dish is what it purports to be? Anyone reading the magazine could look at the mice type credit identifying the shot as a stock image.

    I did get a laugh out of the ribs photo with the bones photoshopped out.

    I suggest these folks worry about more important things.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  15. Really?Cali

    Ok. I just caught my breath from laughing. Do you realize that the majority of adverts that depict food are..(drumroll)..NOT REALLY FOOD!!!!!! I am not offended that McDonald's commercials depict my favorite value meal using mostly non-edible products! Thanks for wasting 5 minutes of my life, CNN. Let's get on to the real news.....ok....your news story was a bit funny, though.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:50 am | Report abuse |
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