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):
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.