VegNews Magazine Using Stock Photos of Meat Dishes

This story is practically old news by now, and I had no intention of publicly weighing in on the matter, but for some reason, I am very bothered by this situation. So, here it is:

April 13th, 2011 – Blogger QuarryGirl received an email tip from a reader who realized that a photo on the VegNews website of a veggie burger was actually a picture of a real hamburger from istockphoto.com. Both he and QuarryGirl left multiple comments on the VegNews site notifying them of the “mistake,” all of which were immediately deleted. In fact, the reader was told that his “inappropriate and mean-spirited commenting has violated the  policy of VegNews,” and that VegNews moderators would continue to remove his comments. After further investigation, it appeared that this was a fairly common practice on the site, and that images were even doctored to remove any meaty elements, such as the bones in the picture of spare ribs below (courtesy of QuarryGirl):

Before

vegnews realribs RANT: VegNews is putting the MEAT into vegan issues   

After

vegribs RANT: VegNews is putting the MEAT into vegan issues

April 14th, 2011 – VegNews released a statement in which they neither apologized nor promised never to use stock photos again (not even non-vegan stock photos). The statement begins with, “The entire VegNews community is deeply saddened with the dialogue that has transpired over the last 12 hours.” Uhh…sorry? Wait…what? Are we supposed to be apologizing to them?

It continues with a sort-of sob story about how expensive it is to publish a magazine and trying to compete with mainstream mags and nobody was vegan eleven years ago, oh-my-god-how-sad. Oh, and they won some awards from Oprah and Martha Stewart in the process! And basically, they couldn’t have done all of this without using stock photos. Hey, that’s just “industry standard.”

It’s not like I have a problem with using stock photos, in general, but it seems pretty obvious that a vegan audience isn’t going to be to happy when they find out that they’re actually looking at a picture of chicken breast soup and not seitan stew. I think VegNews knew that, too, or they wouldn’t have kept it secret. Usually, if you feel like you have to hide something, it’s probably something you shouldn’t be doing. Another thing that I’ve been wondering about is whether or not these photos, which are supposed to correspond with a specific recipe in the magazine, even look anything like the actual dish. I mean, when I make meals from my favorite vegan cookbooks and sites, like Vegan Dad, the dish I prepare actually turns out looking something like the picture posted on the site.

Which brings me to another point: there are many vegan food bloggers who take their own mouth-watering pictures to go along with the recipes they’ve created. If they can do it without making any money from what they post, it can’t be that difficult to get a decent point-and-shoot and some white plates and snap a picture of the actual dish. There’s no one on the VegNews staff with even a bit of cooking or photography experience who would be willing to make the dish at home and take a picture of it? Even if no one at VegNews could cook or take pictures of food, which would be really strange since that’s such a major focus of the magazine, I would rather go without a picture than see a picture of a dish made of meat that probably looks nothing like the actual creation. Seriously, you don’t need a picture of every dish. Most cookbooks don’t even have pictures for all of their recipes. Same goes for Vegetarian Times, another popular veg mag.   

Is anyone with me on this? Because I was shocked at how many bloggers and commenters defended VegNews’ actions. I first saw the story on Vegansaurus, but I wasn’t terribly surprised with their wishy-washy response because one of their writers also works for VegNews. Pretty apparent conflict of interests, although they don’t seem to think that it’s clouding their judgement. A lot of people think this is akin to airbrushing images of models and celebrities, but I don’t agree. I feel like most people who like to spend their time looking at  celebrities actually WANT to see them airbrushed and made up and wouldn’t like what they saw if the person wasn’t wearing any make-up. In short, people want to be fooled when they see that celebrity, and they allow it to happen. And anyway, when you look at a doctored picture of Jennifer Lopez, you still recognize her as Jennifer Lopez. As someone who loves to cook, yes, I love to see pictures of beautiful food, but it’s just as important to me that the picture is an accurate portrayal of the dish that I am so excited to make. If you have to sacrifice a little bit of the “beauty” to do that, which I don’t see why you would unless the food is just ugly to begin with and then you shouldn’t photograph it at all, then do it.

As a final note, a lot of people are also saying that this issue is distracting from the important matters; that is, animal cruelty, political issues that affect animal matters, etc. Maybe so, but is that the fault of the vegan public or the perpetrator? People were probably assuming they could hold VegNews to a higher standard and wouldn’t have to police a company with ethics as its main focus. To be sure, they are not the first ethics-touting company to screw up, and they are certainly not the last, but I think we have the right to be disappointed that we can’t even rely on people who supposedly share our values to represent us in the way that we would like to be represented.

More takes on the matter:
QuarryGirl
Vegansaurus
The Discerning Brute
This Dish is Veg

3 responses to “VegNews Magazine Using Stock Photos of Meat Dishes

  1. That’s just wrong. And I loves my meat. But, if the situation was flipped… I’d be pretty pissed if what I thought was a mouth watering Beef Burger… ended up being a Tofu patty (no offense.)

    Which also makes me wonder, if the defense of VegNews is somewhat motivated because Vegans are a minority, so the ends justify the means when it comes to trying to keep up with the majority? Not to play the minority card or anything.

    Yea… this is pretty stupid. Regardless of What the dish is, a vegetarian dish will OBVIOUSLY not look anything like a non-Veg dish (not counting simple things like chicken noodle soup sans chicken)… so to pass them off as one and the same is pretty sad.

  2. Veg News did nothing wrong. The truth is that vegetarians and vegans, in the sea of the North American population, are few and far between. Veg News does not have the resources that say, “Guns and Ammo” magazine would have. The fact is that Veg News is one of the few magazines published that tries to spark interest in Vegetarian and Vegan lifestyles. This act of sparking interest in our lifestyle is exteremly important for many reasons such as the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the publics ignorance of it and compassion. The cause that Veg News has taken on is an honorable one. Just because they have used stock photos that may not have been of genuinely vegan food does not mean that the people at Veg News are liars or anything. The fact that it has been termed a scandal is stretching the truth in my perspective. To say that about a magazine that may not have had the resources for a complete series of original photography for every subject they touch on just shows how much people are focussed on the superficial aspects of things. I find it especially hard to understand other vegetarians and vegans who are expelling energy to express anger with Veg News. It seems to me that the heads of the industries that are opposing our movement of compassion and environmental restoration must be sparking cigars is their lazyboy chairs and laughing at us. We must not dispute amongst eachother and fight. There is simply no gain to it whatsoever. So what if Veg News starts using 100% original photography, what does that do for our movement? Absolutely nothing, except the loss of energy that could have been used toward something that could have progressed our movement.
    -Cory Davis

  3. i think, at least the way i see it, that anytime you aren’t 100% honest, it gives people a negative impression. and since vegans/vegetarians are already seen in a negative light by the majority of our society, adding to their negative view only makes things worse. now not only are vegans crazy, backwards, confrontational, food-nazis, who want to steal your freedom and ruin the livelihoods of America’s farmers, but now they’re also dishonest and conniving. we don’t want a dishonest publication sparking interest in the movement. it paints everybody in a bad light.

    i can appreciate that money’s tight and this business has to do whatever it can to continue publication. however, when you’re promoting a movement, you need to think about what you’re doing and how your actions may be attached to the greater movement. it does seem like a silly thing to get up in arms about, but these vegans/vegetarians who are upset most likely feel betrayed by a group that they thought represented them. they’re probably also upset that their morals/conduct will be compared to the people at vegnews. all understandable. the fear is that this could actually set the movement back, rather than promote it. and if a group is going to be representing you, i think it’s totally acceptable to hold them to the highest of standards.

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