Controversy After Vegan Magazine Found to Use Non-Vegan Stock Photos

In the past week or two there has been an interesting controversy regarding the use of stock photography: vegan blogger published a post on April 13th accusing the nations leading vegan magazine VegNews of using non-vegan stock photos to illustrate its vegan recipes. An example presented is a “Vegan Spare Ribs” article that uses a Photoshopped iStockPhoto image of actual barbecue spare ribs (shown above).

The author of the blog post writes,

We’ve always been fans of VegNews, since back in the mid-2000s when we’d wait with bated breath for the US Mail to deliver our copy. We’d eagerly flip through, reading all about the latest veg stuff, salivating over the amazing pictures, trying out a vegan recipe, and maybe even discovering a restaurant in our home town through one of their reviews.

it’s sad, then, that the pictures we’ve been drooling over for years are actually of MEAT!

After the story went viral and appeared in publications ranging from CNN to the New York Times, the magazine issued a letter explaining the reasons behind the meat photos:

Yes, from time to time, after exhausting all options, we have resorted to using stock photography that may or may not be vegan. 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. 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. [#]

What are your thoughts on VegNews’ use of stock photography?

RANT: VegNews is putting the MEAT into vegan issues (via A Photo Editor)

  • Bobby Adamson

    Every company has its dirty little secrets. They didn’t hide theirs very well.

  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    VegMag, you can afford me. I’ll stoop to being your vegan photographer for 100K/year if you drop the requirement that I have to live on the stuff.

  • lc

    Wouldn’t have been too hard to have someone whip up the dish and take a picture. I think it’s more worrying that they used stock photos for their recipes, not that they used non-vegan stock photos.

  • Royce Walston

    I think their response was good, but maybe that is because I am not vegan. I am sure it is difficult to produce each issue and stay within budget, without using stock images, just as locating vegan stock would be.

  • Anonymous

    Tasty, tasty dirty little secrets.

  • Oliver Lea

    People need to find more important things to complain about.

  • Donovan Rekanize Fannon

    wait… “shot by vegan photographers?”


  • Nate

    Is it important that the paper be only made by Vegan paper mill workers? How about the print shops? How about the mailmen?
    I _do_ wish magazines that are set up for particular purpose could always live by the mores they espouse, but I suppose the people they are catering to aren’t all of one mind on the value of getting that result (ie: what’s pure enough to be OK). If it cost $15 an issue (instead of say $5), how would their readership fare? Would they continue to purchase in enough quantities to keep the publication going?

    Ah well. Outside my realm. I like meat and am not too concerned with purity in my reading material.

  • Robert

    Hold on a minute….I can’t get past the idea that a vegan would even need to eat something that looks like, tastes like, smells like and has the same consistency as meat. Why not just eat meat? I swear I don’t get it!

  • vps photography

    I would totally become a vegan in exchange of getting a job as their photographer.

  • Lis Bokt

    I was starting to think I was the only one with that issue!

  • Tatyana Skymyrka

    Honestly, I don’t understand the fascination of making things look like meat/other animal products when you’re a vegan in a first place. Disclaimer: I am a vegetarian.

    So, that being said, the issue has been blown out of proportion, and old news by now. IMHO, it’s not different than any retouched/staged photo out there. Any photog knows, there’s very real “real” element in food photography, be is using mash potatoes for ice cream, fake ice cubes or plastic sushi. Anything to make an appealing food porn photo.

  • Persio

    How else would they make a vegan food look delicous? LOL

  • Gabe Sturdevant

    Why not just hire a photographer, have the staff cook a bunch of the food they want featured, then take photos? I am sure a photography student would charge much less than some stock companies.

  • VeggieTog

    This is a lame excuse for an explanation and actually borders on blatant fraud. While not a vegan, I am a vegetarian and find this very distasteful (pardon the pun). As a photographer I understand that print quality is a consideration but you don’t see automobile magazines using a pic of a Ford with the logo ‘shopped out to promote a Chevy because they were too cheap to go shoot the actual product.

    Bad mojo, very bad.

  • VeggieTog

    This is a lame excuse for an explanation and actually borders on blatant fraud. While not a vegan, I am a vegetarian and find this very distasteful (pardon the pun). As a photographer I understand that print quality is a consideration but you don’t see automobile magazines using a pic of a Ford with the logo ‘shopped out to promote a Chevy because they were too cheap to go shoot the actual product.

    Bad mojo, very bad.

  • Skevos Mavros

    As a vegetarian (though not a vegan) this strikes me as being lame and misleading, though not offensive or, alas, unusual. Most magazines, both the online and offline varieties, are filled with images that are obviously stock. Personally I support those publications that do not use stock images much or at all (I think Monocle magazine is an example of that), but they are rare.

    This specific example is particularly lame as most vegans chose veganism not for aesthetic or health reasons, but for moral/ethical reasons – they don’t want to support the meat industry in any way with their money. So although the financial link between buying a magazine with stock photos of real meat is a tenuous link to supporting the meat industry, many vegans take that sort of thing seriously.

    My POV is that it’s just dishonest – in the case of recipe articles, readers would be looking at images containing real meat and following the recipes and not getting the same results.

  • Tyson Call

    It is a picture of meat in a magazine. If you are putting any effort into being upset about this besides thinking “Oh, that’s a shame” then you should educate yourself on more important things going on in this world.

  • Tyson Call

    It’s true. My sister was an editor at a prominent lifestyle magazine. She told me how they would outright lie about the things they had done, the lifestyle they truly led, etc, for articles in the magazine. They had to put up the facade because of what the readers expected, and that expectation was unrealistic.

  • ranger9

    My thoughts:

    1) I think stock photos ALWAYS should be labeled as such.

    2) If they were stuck using this photo, they could have been clever and turned the situation to their advantage by putting the circle-with-slash “No” symbol over it and captioning the photo to read that their vegan ‘ribs’ are much nicer than these icky meaty things.

    3) I’m sure they’re 100% correct that the supply of suitably vegan stock photos is limited. Heads up, stock photographers — marketing opportunity! For that matter, I’m surprised there isn’t already a vegan/free range/fair trade/etc./etc. photo agency specializing in this kind of imagery.

  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    Right! It’s okay for them to use photos of meat dishes from random photogs as long as their photographer would have to be a devout vegan.

  • Seshan

    I’m sorry, but how do you get vegan ribs?

  • Sugarbear

    The big offense committed by VegNews is how they mis-handled the situation. More thoughts on that on my blog:

  • Jenny Bradley

    Using myself as an example, I didn’t go vegan because I dislike meat. I dislike the effect that eating meat has on the environment and the way the animals are treated is cruel and vicious. So bring on the faux meat! I love it!

  • ScottKDC

    Lazy and deceptive. I agree with Skevos–people cooking this dish are going to be hard-pressed to produce the same results when the editors couldn’t even produce these results. And then to blame ‘the industry’ for your shortcomings? And to tell us that you only ‘cheat’ when all of your staff agrees it’s that cheating is ok? Sorry, that doesn’t fly.

  • br

    oh sweet jebus. who cares.. it’s a photo of food

    how many times have you made a recipe following a recipe book
    and the end product looks nothing like the photo they have in the book? tons I bet

  • Daniel Austin Hoherd

    After reading the comments in this thread, it’s pretty obvious that the editors of the magazine would rather have their magazine look untruthfully great than cook the meal and take an honest photo of it. Seems like a betrayal to their readers, choosing meaty stock photography over loyally vegan photos.

  • Dyomar

    Yeah but they might use Photoshop to transform a green Ford into a red one. Same thing.

  • Dyomar

    Stop crying over spilled soy milk. I’m a vegetarian but seriously this is even more lame than when PETA asked the Pet Shop Boys to change their name.

  • Erin Wilson

    What I find more disturbing is that VegNews doesn’t pay for the majority of the articles they publish, and what little they paid for stock photography will be even less now, since readers will now be contributing photos of their recipes for free. So almost no one who actually generates the content of this magazine will be paid.

    For folks who don’t think this is a worthy photography story… wake up.

  • Canin Christell

    I wouldn’t say so, @6f271a452a853eeb16123b4e820c0d38:disqus : The picture is used to promote the quality of the object in this case; seeing if it looks “juicy” or “good to eat,” which is clearly what they’re trying to do. Seeing a green Ford instead of a red one may turn you off artistically, but not only will you not likely judge the quality of the car based on color, but a reasonable person can accept that a green version of a car will look and act just like the red version, only green.

    For food made with different base components, prepared in a different way, and then cooked in a different way?

    Well, I can’t see the “color” comparison carrying over.

    Now should one judge food based on a picture? That’s a debate I’ll leave to someone else.

  • Pauldclarke

    Its not always cause we do not enjoy the taste. It can be for many reasons, and this is mine.