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. Bertie

    Our ancestors who lived in caves did not survive the long cold glacial winters on berries. Get a grip.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
  2. Spijder

    It is quite common in food photography and filming for the supposed 'food' to be molded from inedible materials, even painted. Unless it can be confirmed from iStockphoto that the photographs were not artificial and inedible representations of meat dishes, it very well could be that people are upset over a lump of plastic or clay that has been cleverly painted.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. Saddened

    I suppose the next thing they'll try and tell us is that those models I've been drooling over have fake breasts!

    April 16, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mr. Brown Cow

    Come to the dark side.....but eat chicken instead.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  5. frem

    If vegans abhorr flesh so much why is it that they make a lot of their dishes look like meat. I mean, they have veggie burgers that look and taste like BBQ'd beef patties and Tofurkey that may look like a turkey breast but actually tastes like a chunk of dung. If your true to your cause a veggie burger should be expected to look and taste like a vegetable. This is nothing more than being two faced.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jim

    This article made me laugh.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  7. Zach

    Without weighing in on the issue, I'd like to point out that the magazine deserves credit for actually including food in their pictures. As opposed, for instance, to painted styrofoam, motor oil, glue, etc. (

    April 16, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. james vond

    you know when I order a burger it never quite looks like what they have in the pictures either! I'm with you my vegan sistas!!

    April 16, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. meowww

    This is like a cult that discovers it's been worshipping an idol - of the neighboring tribe's God. Saaaaacrileeeege! Eeeeek.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. Vegsarestupid

    Vegans are stoopid!!! You are suppose to eat meat and if you do salivate over meat dishes in a vegan magazine, then you didn't try hard enough to see that it was meat. Your stoopid ideologies are hypocritical. STFU about animal rights and other issues. Animals are to be eaten, if we did not use animals for food, then why have them? We are not living in the wild west where animals roam around.

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

      Learn to spell first.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. ag

    Who gives a rats behind, vegan food sucks anyway.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. robert

    There are two new studies on WebMD discussing the ways veganism and vegetarianism can create a malnuirished condition. Read up, veg-heads.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • LJHS72

      Also has many good articles on the relationship between meat eating and colon cancer, arteriosclerosis and strokes.

      April 16, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
    • robert

      Yes and in those articles they teach how to live a long healthy life eating meat such as limiting red meat to 2-3 times/week, eating more fish, chicken, etc. Your point is invalid as you left out pertinent information. Way to go.

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

      By your standards, Robert, your point is also invalid, as you left out the fact that both sites also contain articles about how to live a healthy vegetarian or vegan lifestyle without risking malnourishment.

      Malnourished vegetarians/vegans are ones who don't take the time and effort to ensure a healthy balance of nutrients in their diets. And meat eaters who exercise the same lack of caution risk different, but similarly dangerous, health problems.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  13. eek!

    But what about the baby squid who are ground up and used as the base for the print industry's ink? Oh, sorrow!

    April 16, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • kbm

      get with the times! most inks now are soy based.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  14. Robert Lee

    Is anything REAL these days or just BS? Who cares if the pics are perfect, if the food is good and the pics real–GREAT! Would you consider giving someone a shot at it? Our daughter has a passion for shooting photos of food and is VERY good at it. She also is Vegan. Or would you rather loose customers over faking it, which would ultimately be more expensive?

    April 16, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  15. Lisa

    Obviously, the majority of people here don't understand the publishing business. No, they don't have time to "make the food and take a pic" They would have to pay a ton more money to have someone cook and photograph each meal each time. Grow up and get real!

    April 16, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
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