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. MN Tom

    Nothing taste better than a big hunk of dead cow cooked on the grill with all the trimmings. Mouth just watering thinking about grilling one tomorrow.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
  2. Tina

    I can forgive Vegan News. One must look at the whole picture, this magazine has done more good than harm, then let it go, it is not such a big deal. Lets get over it and get a life.

    And I am so tired of hearing idiots/carnivores/cannibals decry their love for animal products and meals.. Their statements are so old, boring and outdated. Believe me, there is no shock value and the same goes for plants and vegetation. Get a llife!

    April 16, 2011 at 5:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. meee

    Cmon girl we all know youve had worse than that in your mouth and didnt complain

    April 16, 2011 at 5:18 am | Report abuse |
  4. mj dep

    when does the food in the picture ever look like the food actually on the plate. it's advertising- not real life.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. Joey

    The most ethical course of action for humans would be to eat nothing at all.
    Plants are destroyed when we consume them: it is not a simple matter of hurting their feelings when they know we are coming to harvest them.
    The same is true of the destruction of plant life to clothe ourselves, and for this reason I advocate universal nudity. Of course, the penalty for wearing fur should be death: the slaughter of an animal for the vanity of wearing fur is the worst of murder.
    Let's all stop eating and wearing plants: BE ETHICAL!

    April 16, 2011 at 6:06 am | Report abuse |
  6. BigFurHat

    Look at the vegans spinning this. It's not okay to eat meat, but it's okay to photograph dead animals and pretend it's tofu? That's asinine and hypocritical.
    Vegans don't even like depictions of animal markings on fabric, but somehow finding out they've been oooing and ahhhing over dead animals is okay?
    Gimme a break.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. Hahaha

    For every animal these clowns don't eat, I'll have three please! What self-righteous wussies vegans are, we have our canines for a reason! (the teeth! – not dogs...which are also edible!)

    April 16, 2011 at 6:09 am | Report abuse |
  8. Benny

    It's no wonder they can't find any vegan photographers. Those camera's are heavy and those undernourished, bone sacks can't possible lift them!

    Just a thought.

    To all the vegans who are truely incessed over this controversy, tonight we should all get together lift a beer and have a fat piece of Ribeye steak. Medium rare.

    In the language of the cows, "Moo" actually means, "We know you are going to eat us and we understand our place in the world. Thank you!"

    LMAO>.. really funny... Poor little vegans. "Get your barf bags ready!"


    April 16, 2011 at 6:25 am | Report abuse |
    • M

      That is such an ignorant comment I don't even know where to begin. I guess it's okay to stereotype people these days – so long as it's not one of the protected classes.

      Pick up a book or read a newspaper. It's pretty simple to have healthy, balanced plant based, animal free diet. I'm not suggesting you try it (some folks love their meat!) but, at least consider the idea that "YOUR WAY" isn't the only way.

      I couldn't care less about using stock photos – it's a low budget magazine. I think the issue is they should have a disclaimer somewhere stating that the photos aren't actually of the recepies they're presenting – it kind of sucks to think you're making something that's going to look one way, but won't.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ben

    Does soy not strive to live with every fiber of it's bean?

    April 16, 2011 at 6:29 am | Report abuse |
  10. Joey

    Vegans, whose message to the world is really, "I'm Better Than you because I'm so ethical that I won't even eat what you do," should do something truly ethical by buying, preparing, and delivering high-protein meat dishes to poor people who don't have enough to eat.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
  11. Pat

    People have different tastes. I wouldn't mind meat, but if you prefer something like vegetables then I guess it's alright.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
  12. David

    Most people don't care what vegans or vegetarians do and don't eat, they just hate getting the stupid lectures on "ethics" and on how "stupid" it is to eat meat and then get some made up or skewed facts shoved in their face by said vegans. It's just the "we are smarter and better than you" vegans that give the rest a bad name.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
  13. JWalks

    Publishing stock photos of dishes containing meat and passing them off as vegan isn't really a crime, but it is bad journalism. And as someone mentioned earlier, it sounds like the magazine did not actually test all the recipes it published, which again is bad journalism. If VegNews isn't going to take the time to do the work, they shouldn't publish the story, or the recipe.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
  14. Aaron

    If this is surprising to you then you seriously need to wake up. This is America... It's about money and nothing else.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
    • iPwn

      Where"s the beef?

      April 16, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Good times.......reading this article while eating chicken.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      Wow, people will always find something to complain about. A lot of magazines use stock photos. Vegans are the single most annoying group of people I've ever met.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • EA

      Couldn't have put it more eloquently.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
    • DeDee -a meat eater

      Who cares what the picture contains - It's the recipe that counts. One doesn't have to be blind to enjoy a good recipe.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • The Hamburgerler

      uh....just a second............................Sorry had to finish my steak. I can comment while throwing my salad away.
      I want to say I love this magazine! I get it for free and use it to line the bottom of my hunting dogs crates, gotta keep'em clean so we get those Rabbits and Ducks!!!
      Thanks for the Magazines guys!

      April 16, 2011 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
    • TheYeti

      "Vegans are the single most annoying group of people I've ever met."

      Apparently, Amy has never had a Christian group knock on her door.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      For people who are in favor the ethical treatment of animals and not eating anything that comes from an animal you would think they would be nice, caring people. But it seems to me that most of them are bitter and vengeful. C'mon recognize the situation of a PRIVATELY owned company. Money is an object, especially at this time for most people. Thank you quarrygirl for throwing your own under the bus..

      April 16, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • saiya

      Leave the poor plants alone, what did they ever do to you.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • brett

      ha Dan – I'm having bacon and eggs!

      April 16, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      My goodness some people need a cookie. How can you get so worked up about people not eating or eating meat. It's like people getting all worked up over Peruvians eating Guinea pigs, Koreans eating Dogs and Feench people eating Horse, to each his own. I am a vegetarian through choice but get a life guys. Everyone knows that food in photos is usually inedible with ingredients to make it look bettter after hours under hot lights.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. veggiesue

    Boo on YOU, VegNews. How about MAKING the recipe and photographing the end results. Crap that you are working on a shoestring.. It doesn't cost that much to get some photographs taken every month. Are you a monthly? You should be a NONE-thly.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Don.Moishe

      Food photography, if you want it to really be appealing, is very expensive and not something to be done by an amateur with a digital camera. Just one month's budget for professionally done photography such as you're suggesting would run well over $10,000! Which is exactly why this magazine uses stock photos.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Tad Pole

      It doesn't cost much to get shots taken every mont. Really?! Itis difficult enough to put out a monthy magazine, muchless on a low budget, but now you are contending that it really isn't difficult to have a photographer on staff that will do food shoots? As a professional photographer that has done food shoots, I can tell you that a good photo can take weeks, or longer. Do to the nature of the specific item, you often can't use real food, but instead need to recreate something that looks as close as you can get to the real thing out of material that is more durable than real food.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
    • thymesquarefarm

      Completely agree. How can you include a recipe in your magazine without trying it first? And if you do make them, then just click a damn photo and be done with it.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Pam

      Clearly you've never worked in a business where professional photography was required. It's incredibly expensive and not so easily done. You want to see what snapshots of a recipe after you actually make it look like? Check out Amy Sedaris' cookbook. It's comedic and the food looks real, i.e. not delicious. That just doesn't work in a publication like this. This is really not a big deal and I'm sure most vegans would agree. I would hope they would have the sense to anyone. This drama queen complaining is one of the few.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      Just proves this publication is a fraud. Probably sit around the board room eating steak and lobster.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • zapper45701

      Food photography has nothing to do with the food. When you see a lovely picture of Special K floating in milk, that milk is actually white glue. It doesn't let the cereal go soggy while photographing it. Those beautiful Thanksgiving turkeys with the golden brown skins–they're actually quite raw. The golden skin is the goal, not the cooked bird. A truly cooked bird tends to shrink a bit, and the skin gets crinkly. Food photography is airbrushed, arranged, faked, and cosmetically altered in any number of ways. Vegans just need to realize that it's about the recipe, not the picture.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • kytrex

      You know nothing about producing a magazine. The magazine is awesome and all its contents are free online. They have the best recipes. You are just another self righteous, idealistic hippe. You make the rest of us vegans look bad. Oh..and your NONE-thly joke is incredibly stupid.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Klorn

      You know, that's called false advertising. This is why half our country is addicted to burger king and micky d's. Making fake food and passing it off as real and photographing it should be illegal.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
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