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. Joey

    I don't care if some fool wants to starve himself to death by not eating at all for "ethical" or religious reasons, or if another fool wants to make his body weak by denying himself sufficient protein.
    It's part of evolution: the strong survive.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:00 am | Report abuse |
    • alboze

      I will bet you my life savings that there is not one protein deficient vegetarian in this country. This is a myth that the meat producers cram down every overweight, high colesteroled, high blood pressured, arthritic, angry, meat eater's throat, so that they will never learn the truth. I am so glad I woke up in time and regained my health through a vegan diet.
      What's the big deal about the mag using some photos of food containing meat, you can't smell or taste it and they are not telling anyone to eat meat. They do a good service, leave them alone.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • joeybackatya

      As an accomplished martial artist I dare say I have no issue with protein and muscle building. Ask my former opponents.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      Joey, agreed, the strong will survive, and Iyour life will be shorter than that of the average vegan or vegetarian.

      Americans have been brainwashed by the whole 3 dairy + 2 meat a day campaign.

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

      I don't eat meat for protein. I eat it because it tastes good.

      If "God" didn't want us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them out of meat.

      Salad isn't food. Salad is what food eats.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Alcomo

      Nom Nom. Oh sorry couldn't hear you over my 15oz. red and bloody porterhouse!! Hows your lettuce coming along over there?

      April 16, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Hubrisate

      Wow alboze, I hope you are trolling. You are a complete moron if you are not. You realize those teeth you have that have pointy ends are for eating meat right? Go play in traffic.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Mentiel

      I eat meat and veggies..why? cause my teeth and digestive system is designed that way...i am an Omnivore.. my Molars were designed to crush and grind up those veggies while my Incisors and Bicuspids were perfectly made for slicing and tearing through that meat.

      Saying a purely vegan diet is healthier is not true. You eat a balance level of proteins, carbs and fats and exercise properly and almost any diet is just as healthy... as for the cholesterol... most meats do not contain LCL cholesterol which is what clogs the arteries...HCL on the other hand (which alot of meat does contain) actually helps keep those arteries clear.

      Those eating meat and being Obese are not cause of the food they eat...its the fact that they do not remove their butt from a chair and break a sweat.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • TheRuminant

      Yawn. I'm a vegan and I can't seem to make myself care about this issue at all. I don't plan to eat the photo. Also, it's a stock photo, so it's not like they went out and bought meat to make it. I think the only reason this story is so popular is that it gives self-conscious meat-eaters a chance to bash vegans. Everyone's gotta have a hobby, I guess.

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

      @Alboze–I've known several vegans that had problems with protein and other deficiencies. Veganism only works if you educate yourself about nutrition. What we need is more education about nutrition. I do agree with you that groups such as the meat industry do force misinformation, which makes the education more difficult.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sigh - seriously?

    I'm not sure why all the negative responses to Vegans... I eat meat – rare and often – but believe in live and let live... Who cares what someone else eats or doesn't eat? I like a lot of vegetarian food, I just like a steak on the side.

    As to the pictures – again, who cares, if they follow the recipe there won't be animal products in the dish, and all food pictures are representations at best... seems like a storm in a teacup to me. No need to bash anyone here.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
    • luis

      No, the idea with that is with a purpose. The purpose of subliminal inducing people that those veg dishes are appealing, colorful, tasteful, whatever...that is an enjoyable life and food, which is what America pretends when selling you anything, from lousy self-help books badly written to bad hollywood movies empty of meaning

      April 16, 2011 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Berty

      Thank you–it's exhausting having people generalize all vegans as one stereotype, when I feel far from that stereotype. My friends have all told me that I'm not pushy, annoying, etc. about my veganism since becoming a vegan a year and a half ago. It's frustrating to be treated like this (these other posts) by strangers who don't know me, don't know my reasons for being vegan, and many of whom probably don't know any vegans personally. I truly appreciate when an omnivore stands up for us–we're not all crazy, iron-deficient PETA members who dress in lettuce bikinis.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • gremlin

      luis–I think if you read the original blogger post, the person made the point that these photos were made with real beef, so that using these photos was putting money into the pockets of people profiting from animal slaughter. Your point is taken, but that wasn't what the original controversy was about (if i remember what I read correctly. I admit I stopped reading after a while because the post devolved into, in my opinion, a childishly excessive rant.)

      April 16, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  3. Joey

    I abhor weakness.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
    • inga

      I have a weakness for hor abs

      April 16, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  4. luis

    When we people from outside the US claim that american life-style is all "fake", plastic, without quality (when compared to british or europe)...this is what we mean

    April 16, 2011 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Teddy Roosevelt

      We're sorry. Now go back to eating sheep guts and boiled everything. And don't forget to call when you want some innovation, drive and the ability to stickup for yourselves. Pretentious snobs.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      I was raised in the US but lived in Germany for 10 years. Luis is 100% correct. I was shocked upon my return to the US by how EVERYTHING here is fake. I can't eat in American restaurants because I can literally taste all the nasty chemicals in the fake food they serve. Fake cheese, fake bread, fake wood on your house, fake glass. Everything is made in China, and it's all made to look like it's something that it's not. This Vegan magazine is merely following the American way of life.
      If they are on a budget, perhaps they can have readers submit photos for the articles. I bet that even if the photos aren't as good as professional, the reader involvement will keep followers up.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
    • William

      If you don't like it, you can leave. No one's forcing you to stay here. By the way, I just went to London, and it is one of the filthiest, dirtiest, shiftiest cities I've ever been to.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Funny that that Europe has more McDonalds than I have ever seen in my life.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnson

      Laura your absolutely right. In Europe something as simple as mozzarella cheese is totally different because it is REAL mozzarella cheese. Many Americans don't know what real mozzarella even is, yet somehow it costs the same in Germany as the fake mozzarella does here. It's the 'buy-the-cheapest-available' american values that has made these inferior fake foods and restaurants dominate our market, and relegated REAL food to the specialty stores like Whole Foods that most of us Americans simply can not afford to shop at; it simply amazes me that in many other countries this is not an issue and high quality inexpensive food is the norm.

      To people saying there is McDonalds everywhere in Europe or if Laura suggests another country's food is better she should leave the USA: I am a natural American and spent time in Germany when I was in the Army and I don't have any desire to leave for Europe, but it is silly to be willfully ignorant about the crap that is fed to Americans. Most Germans know that McDonalds is crap and stay away from it, despite the fact that the food in theirs is a lot better! Sure in the major cities there are quite a few fast food restaurants, but it doesn't nearly compare to 5 restaurants every square mile in the USA. The majority of Americans have been adjusted to a diet of slave food that is essentially the gruel of 'Oliver Twist'. McDonalds and Taco Bell are low quality products in every facet of their construction, fortified with fillers and nonsense that is not naturally occuring. Veganism is one thing, but people SHOULD be very critical of our food market and demand better food to market. I'm not even talking about organics I just mean real food generally.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • gremlin

      Sorry, but I'm one of those people that resents the implication that the american lifestyle is fake. Your entire premise seems to be predicated on the idea that everyone eats out all the time. Maybe that's true where you are, but not where I am. I prepare almost all of my own food and there are more restaurants than just fast food ones. Please don't stereotype an entire country by what you see on TV or by the most negative examples you have seen. I don't do that to other countries and I would appreciate the same courtesy.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. Shannanigans

    Everyone here has been talking about these self-righteous, morally superior vegans...all I see are "vegans are dumb lolz" and "hahahd stupid moron vegans" comments. Seriously, read the thread and tell me which group of people are shoving their dietary choice down other people's throat. Making fun of someone for what they eat makes as much sense as making fun of someone for how long they sleep. Who gives a crap?

    April 16, 2011 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. Dave

    Self Sanctimonious Vegans are all just playing pretend to play taking the moral high ground.
    Two things they never want to answer & Avoid at all costs.
    Show me one primitive vegetarian culture.There are none. Being able to survive as a full time veganut is only possible through modern technology and industrialization..

    If they are so proud of their twisted way of life why do they try so hard to Fake Animal products?

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

      What two things are you referring to?

      Much of India has been vegetarian/vegan for centuries.

      Yes, technology has made becoming vegan much easier. Thank goodness.

      Fake animal products give vegans the chance to eat the foods they grew up on. Stir frys and fajitias and whatnot. We vegans didn't become some higher level of being. We just realized at some point that torturing and murdering animals is wrong. Adjusting our diets to be compassionate is our way of trying to fix that.

      April 16, 2011 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Amber

      Are you aware that the very first humans were vegans? And like Josh said most Indians are vegetarian/ or vegan. And as far as the fake meat products go; yes, it does make my life alot easier, especially on a busy day when I don't have time to prepare something, but isn't that the exact same purpose t.v dinners and things hamburger helper serve for you (and other meat-eaters)? Besides, we aren't hurting you, or anyone or thing for that matter, so why does it bother you so much?

      April 16, 2011 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
    • joeybackatya

      It is on page one of the Bible. No meat.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Page one of the Bible has God making clothing out of animal skins. Animals are for our use in food and other items. We do not have to be cruel in the actions to harvest but it isn't wrong on any level.

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

    Weakness presenting itself as superiority is laughably disgusting.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. mike_21954

    Mmmm, meat. There's a reason God made it so tasty.

    Come to the dark side of the force. We have pulled pork sandwiches.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Pam

      Pulled chicken too, yummy...

      April 16, 2011 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
    • PhoenixRising

      My vote if for Sloppy Joes! You know the ones.....the filling falling out of the bun!

      April 16, 2011 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
    • palehoze

      veal is the real deal.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
    • AR15

      There is nothing better than wild rabbit stew or venison wrapped in bacon cooked over charcoal then drizzled in wild mushroom sauce.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  9. sleeplessinCT67

    wow – why so much anger? people have this way of becoming so angry and impassioned when they can do so 'anonymously via the web'. Chill – there is room for everyone's opinion to be aired. if you don't agree fine but how about we evolve past the personal slams? And to clarify though I am posting on this board – I have been reading the news and related blogs all morning – it's just everywhere.

    Enjoy the day!

    April 16, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      It's wrong that people spend $10, maybe $20, to make a dish they were convinced looked good from the picture: But the picture wasn't actually of the dish! What the hell! If you put a picture with a recipe, it should be a picture of the food that resulted from the recipe. Otherwise just leave out the photo, or wait for a user-submitted photo.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • joeybackatya

      You'ld think we were forcing meat eaters to eat tofu they way they get so worked up about vegans.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
  10. radar

    I agree

    April 16, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  11. ralk

    This is news!

    April 16, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
    • PhoenixRising

      I *know*!!! I couldn't believe it myself, so I had to open the article to see for myself!

      April 16, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. David M.

    Oh, get over yourselves. You won't eat beef, but don't you realize all cows are vegetarians???? So what's the problem? Find a cause that's really worth getting 'outraged' over, like hunger, poverty, abuse, etc.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Berty

      Oddly enough, hunger is the reason I became a vegan. We spend far too many food, land, and water resources just to raise animals that create a comparably small amount of meat, when we could be spending those resources on raising grains, veggies, etc. for humans to consume. I know I'm just a drop in the bucket, being only one vegan, but one drop at a time fills the bucket. (A Swahili phrase–Kidogo kidogo hujaza kibaba)

      And please, folks, read through this comment thread and come to your own conclusions about who is more angry, pushy, and judgmental about others' eating habits.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  13. kazz

    pretty funny – and the photos on are awful

    April 16, 2011 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. Amber

    I'm vegan, and I'm not bothered by the photos. I mean I don't read Vegnews and never have, but so what if the picture isn't's just a picture. There are bigger and more important things in life to worry about. What bothers me more are the ignorant comments about how meat is essential to a child's development, and that vegans are depriving themselves of protein and blah, blah, blah. I've been vegan my entire life and I'm perfectly healthy, probably healthier than most of the 'vegan haters'. And protein is in EVERYTHING, not just meat. It's in beans, lentils, nuts, vegetables, tofu, ect.. Besides, what does it really matter what I or anyone else eats? I mean does it really affect your quality of life if I choose not to have a hamburger?!?

    April 16, 2011 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
    • joeybackatya

      Yes but to create the pictures chickens were killed. Isn't the point of Veganism to not kill?

      April 16, 2011 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Amber

      Yes, it is. The pictures were created long before the magazine chose them. It sucks that they don't show pictures of the actual recipe they are showing but, like I said there are far more important things to be worrying about besides a PICTURE. Instead of whining about the picture, why not volunteer at an animal shelter or introduce other people to the awesomeness of veganism? That will save more lives than fussing about a silly picture.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  15. Bertie

    I totally agree with David. Also, I would send a few vegans to some places in Africa where they mostly live on goat meat. Try to tell those people to eat tree leaves. See if they survive. Vegans I mean.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Berty

      Oh weird, we have the same name, but a different spelling!

      I visited Kenya for a month last year, and did survive on a vegan diet, but after talking with friends there about how animals are raised and resources are used, I decided that if I ever move to Kenya (which I hope to, even if just for a year or two), I won't be a vegan while in Kenya. And you're right, even if I wanted to stay vegan over there, long-term I probably wouldn't get the nutrients I need, because they just aren't available there.

      But while I still live in the US, where absurd amounts of resources are used to raise poorly-treated animals, I'll stay vegan.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
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