Home>QuarryGirl + VegNews + Photo Scandal = Mess

QuarryGirl + VegNews + Photo Scandal = Mess

By |April 15th, 2011|

Well, by now I am surely the last vegan activist, perhaps even the last person, to post something about the VegNews photo scandal.  Although, I have been thinking of little else for the past 24 hours.

So, here it is in a nutshell:

  • VegNews used, and uses, the term vegan on their website and in their magazine to promote and define themselves.
  • VegNews knowingly used non-vegan photographs to represent vegan meals.  This act was misleading, not only because the dish wasn’t an appropriate representation of what the recipe was supposed to look like, but also because VegNews insinuated that it was a vegan meal.
  • One naturally infers that the photo accompanying a recipe is, in fact, a photo of that recipe.  Further, people will naturally assume that the photos in a vegan lifestyle magazine are going to be vegan.  VegNews took advantage of their readers’ trust by not disclosing the non-vegan ingredients in the photos.

To lie means, (of a thing) present a false impression; be deceptive.  Presenting a false impression certainly fits this situation, right?

I want to address a few common arguing points:

VegNews states that stock photography is used as only after all other options have been exhausted.  Furious VegNews supporters have backed up this claim with common-themed comments such as:

1.  It is industry standard to use stock photography,

2.  Vegan Stock Photography doesn’t exist, and

3.  It would be too expensive to produce photos “in house.”

To which I say,

1.  Veganism shouldn’t aspire to the same industry standards that we are trying to change, we should rise above them.

2.  I am not going to say that vegan stock photography exists, it probably doesn’t- yet.  I won’t say the solution would be as easy as asking the vegan blogger community for submissions.  Whether due to resolution or styling, it’s not always feasible to use reader submitted photos for a magazine.  But that is the challenge of owning a company, finding solutions to common problems like these.

3.  Yes, an in-house photographer would be expensive.  Cut back on trips and other costly promotional endeavors (such as the VegNews awards*) until such time that a staff photographer can be hired.  Re-introduce costly promotions as the budget allows.  I understand that it’s costly, but that would be a budgetary item if one was running a magazine, especially a vegan magazine that needs photos of vegan food.

*If I would have known that VegNews couldn’t afford vegan photography, I would have told them, “Thank you for the award I’m super thrilled, but please don’t mail it to me, you can spend the money on a vegan photographer.”  I am sure a lot of the Veg Awards winners would feel that way.

The problem got exponentially worse when VegNews finally issued a statement surrounding the incident.  It’s short, doesn’t address the concerns voiced by hundreds of vegans, and is quite unapologetic.

Which has spurred even more debate.  The most shocking, if you ask me, is the arguing amongst vegans themselves and the lukewarm reaction to the whole mess from popular vegan websites.  Each bringing up issues such as,

1.  VegNews made a mistake, we should forgive them and no one is perfect,

2.  Vegans shouldn’t ostracize a vegan magazine because it’s vegan and we have so few numbers as it is,

3.  Being angry furthers the stereotype that vegans are militant, angry, single-issue, nit-picking, policing, finger pointers- and,

4.  VegNews has done so much for the animal community in the past 11 years, we shouldn’t condemn them for this.

To which I ask you,

1.  Can it be a mistake if it is done knowingly, and then hidden by not disclosing the non-vegan ingredients in their photos, and by deleting comments on their website which inquired about the photo’s authenticity?  Perfection and Honesty are not synonymous.

2. & 3.  Vegans should be consistent in our message and our commitment to ethical practices.  After all, veganism is built upon ethics.  We can do these things with compassion and respect, while remaining authentic to our message.  We must learn to talk to each other, debate, and argue with intelligence and common sense.  Starting your sentences with, “Fucking militant vegans” is no more helpful than starting a conversation by punching someone in the face.  Neither is telling each other that we are stupid, arrogant, crazy, or hyper vigilant.  We need to learn how to talk without berating each other.  We cannot expect omnivores to be willing and open to talk vegan with us if we cannot be willing and open to talk vegan with each other.  Vegans have stereotypes because we do not do a good enough job at dispelling them.  I have room to work on this as well, I’m not calling you out.  I’m saying we need more positive reinforcements, more commitments, stronger convictions, and respect for our fellow humans and non-humans.

And finally,

4.  Is VegNews beyond recriminations because of the perceived good they’ve done for the vegan movement?  Is anyone?  We cannot justify or excuse an obvious transgression based upon prior virtuous behavior- that would be  irresponsible.  The facts show us that VegNews knowingly mislead, well, everyone.  VegNews advertises veganism to a readership of one million people per month.  That’s a lot of people to dupe.

Remember how everyone felt when they found out McDonald’s had mislead people by labeling their french fries as vegetarian when they contained beef essence?

From CBS:

McDonald’s Corp. has agreed to donate $10 million to Hindu and other groups to settle lawsuits filed against the chain for mislabeling french fries and hash browns as vegetarian.

McDonald’s also posted an apology on its Web site, acknowledging that mistakes were made in communicating to customers and the public about the ingredients in the fries and hash browns. The vegetable oil used to prepare the fries and hash browns was not pure, but contained essence of beef for flavoring purposes. Many Hindus consider cows sacred and do not eat beef.

“We regret we did not provide these customers with complete information, and we sincerely apologize for any hardship that these miscommunications have caused among Hindus, vegetarians and others,” the company said in an apology posted June 1 on the Web site. “We should have done a better job in these areas, and we’re committed to doing a better job in the future.”

We got very little from VegNews in terms of answers to our concerns.  Their statement of standard business practices upset a lot of vegans.  At minimum, a vegan magazine that is run by vegans should want to respond to the people whom the magazine promotes.  There is still time.

VegNews still has an opportunity to learn from the mistakes uncovered this week, and I hope that they are listening to the vegan community with careful and thoughtful ears. I hope that they reevaluate their policies, not only in image selection, but in public relations.  I hope they address the concerns of the vegan community and choose to amend these questionable business practices.  I would support them in that endeavor.

Ultimately, we all will feel the effects of the actions of VegNews.  It has the potential to discredit veganism as an ethical movement trying to affect positive change.  It will certainly give fodder to an already long list that omnivores give vegans of “reasons” why it’s impossible to be vegan.  It’s hard enough trying to convince people to go vegan, we really should stop shooting ourselves in the feet every chance we get.


Read the original QuarryGirl post, RANT: VegNews is Putting the MEAT into vegan issues

Then read more about this around all around the web (this is not by any means a full list, this story went viral):

Meat Discovered in Meatless Magazine | NY Times

That’s One Delicious (Dairy) Sundae You’re Seeing in That (Vegan) Magazine | NPR

VegNews DRAMA | Vegansaurus

A Word from MPD: The VegNews Scandal of 2011 | Ecorazzi

Vegan Magazine VegNews Caught with Meat On It’s Hands | Gothamist

Vegans Beef with Commercial Food Styling | Andrea the Gastronaut

Vegan Magazine Uses Photos of Meat, is Sorry You’re Upset | Slog

Vegan Beef of the Day | The Daily What

VegNews Using Stock Photography of Meat in Vegan Magazine Articles | Funkinutt McFly’s Vegan Food Blog

My 2 Cents on the VegNews scandal | Vegan Good Things

Quarry Girl: VegNews Photo Scandal | Healthy. Happy. Life.

The Great Vegan Magazine “Meat Photo” Scandal | The Awl

VegNews, Apologies, and the Fine Art of Growing Up | T.O.F.U. Magazine

VegNews Made a Mistake. Let’s Bend Them Over Our Collective Righteous Knee and Spank Them! | SuperVegan

The VegNews Scandal & Their Mac and Cheese Recipe | The Noochy Noodle

Vegan Magazine Uses Photos of Food That’s Not Totally Vegan | Eater National

VegNews Magazine Scandal | Food-Fitness-FreshAir

The VegNews Scandal | The Krav Vegan

Meat Photo Scandal Rocks World of Vegan Magazines | JPG

VegNews Uses Meat! | Foodista

Food Photography Scandal Uncovered | The Family Kitchen

When Editorial Credibility Gets A Kick in the Smoked Brisket | SportsShooter

About the Author:

Founder & Creator of Your Daily Vegan. Twitter: @YourDailyVegan


  1. Leonardo Mendel May 22, 2011 at 11:39 am - Reply

    Need a great vegan meal phtograph??
    http://www.eatingcolors.com , all vegan dishes!!! great!!

  2. webweave April 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    I’d love to see a campaign to encourage vegan operations ensure vegan principles through out the entire product chain. A vegan seal of approval with a group of inspectors and communicators, something like the electrical standards bodies UL or CSA that exist. otherwise its just business as usual. Maybe then we could open up a vegan food photo studio and make some money doing it.

  3. Gabrielle April 16, 2011 at 8:29 pm - Reply

    I experienced a very different reaction from omnivores than “B” did. The two omni people I told about this story were equally aghast and appalled. Maybe it was the way in which I presented it to them, but they both felt it a matter of ‘principle’, and understood completely. No ‘eye-rolling’.

  4. Charleen April 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    As a photographer myself, I can say that I understand where you’re coming from as far as food photo shoot design goes. Of course, photos used in magazines and, indeed, in media in general, are edited beyond belief during all aspects of the production process. I think that the public has a general understanding of this as well. That is not the issue here. Using animal products in the photos of a vegan publication, print or online, is contrary to the fundamental ethical beliefs of vegans. Vegans do not knowingly consume animal products. Period.

    VegNews consumed, by paying for, the product known as stock photography- Ok.
    The stock photography they paid for was produced by (presumably) using animal products- not Ok.
    VegNews “photoshopped” their paid for stock photo- Ok.
    Vegnews photoshopped out the meat evidence- not Ok.

    If the original stock photo of “meat sandwich” itself was not actually made with meat, but some other possible vegan substitue, VegNews would have informed their readers of this, as it would have been a good defense of their position. They did not do so to my knowledge. In fact, they defended their use of the non-vegan photos. So, we are to infer that the original stock photos were produced using animal products.

    Again, vegans do not consume animal products. VegNews did just that, and then proceeded to hide it. Further, this issue will weigh heavily on how the vegan community is perceived by non-vegans, most likely as hypocrites lacking conviction to their own beliefs.

  5. webweave April 16, 2011 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    You are arguing over dots of ink on paper. A photo is not an object and nothing you see photographed in a magazine is really what it is and why should it be? Its an image that represents something else, it is not reality. Is a painting a person? Is the girl in the ad really that tall and skinny?

    I worked in commercial arts and photography for many years and I’m telling you you don’t want to eat anything you see photographed in a magazine. Because of limitations in photography and graphic process and our own visual systems professionals create representative images. When we shot food (and we shot for some pretty big clients) we intentionally ordered catered food that was the opposite of whatever we were shooting just so we wouldn’t poison ourselves.

    To make food look good in a magazine you have to do a lot of things that you would never do to food you want to eat. It sits under hot lights for hours, you add chemicals to simulate steam, you under cook everything to keep the colours from fading and to keep things looking plump and juicy. Often ice is just chunks of plastic and ice cream just foam.

    You represent food with a photograph, its not the food.

  6. B April 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    I agree with *most* of this. My problem is that vegans did a horrible job expressing their concerns on both sides of the issue. As someone who is surrounded by omnis and knows few veggies, they just laughed and rolled their eyes at those “idiot vegans”. At the end of the day, mainstream media just made us all sound crazy and it perpetuated the vegan stereotype even further. It was counterproductive.

    Now, I’m not siding with VegNews. It was SO important for us to know the truth, that’s where great change comes from and it’s the most important aspect of our movement. TRUTH. We needed to know this and now VegNews can make some positive change, which I am betting they will. And I will continue to support them even if maybe I don’t buy the magazine until all is settled.

    What I am saying, is that they way it was handled by the louder voices of the vegan movement was just terrible. Thursday felt like vegans were running after VegNews with flaming torches! It shouldn’t have made it to CNN in the form that it did. A raging fury. I read all the mainstream media articles and the comments on them. They just collectively rolled their eyes at us. Omnis are going to want to listen to us even less now. We can’t let a situation get this out of control again. It discredits our movement.

    I believe that truth is the most important thing BUT I feel we could have exposed the truth and come to a solid resolution without harming our image the way we did with this “scandal”.

  7. mimi April 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    KD, I would imagine that they created the promotional programs rather than obtaining an inhouse photographer because the promotional programs brought back returns that allowed them to stay in business, and having an inhouse photographer would not. What’s the good in shelling out for the salary of an inhouse photographer if no one knows about your magazine?

    From what I can tell, T.O.F.U. is a digital, annual publication. VegNews is a printed, bi-monthly publication. That’s a completely different ballgame both financially and time-wise.

    It sounds like you do feel that if they are unable to afford a photographer to take vegan photos, they shouldn’t be in business, and maybe you are right, but I cautiously disagree with you.

    • KD April 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm - Reply

      Mimi, I appreciate the feedback. I agree that T.O.F.U. Magazine and VegNews are not the same (though both are in print but yes, one is much larger than the other) and I suppose that is part of my point. If a smaller publication can do it (I’ve read that VegTimes has confirmed to use vegan photos for their issues- though I haven’t spoken to them or contacted them personally) then it stands to reason that a larger one, with more resources, could do it.

      But that is neither here nor there, I think we both agree that there are questionable practices of misleading the readers of VegNews. Not to mention that they misrepresented what veganism is, as the food they showed is not vegan. I think the bigger picture is what this is going to do to veganism as a whole movement. The story has already gone viral, it’s on CNN for goodness sake. And it doesn’t make us look good.

  8. mimi April 16, 2011 at 9:29 am - Reply

    KD, I would disagree that the VegNews Awards are not primarily promotional. Promotion would definitely be their motivation for starting up these awards. In fact, it was via said awards that I first discovered VegNews. The problem with cutting back promotion is the same as with eliminating promotion. Unless they have very little business sense (as since they are a VEGAN magazine that has managed to survive and thrive for over a decade, I think we can assume that someone walking around their office has got a head for business), they aren’t spending money on promotion that doesn’t need to be spent there.

    They’ve already stated that they can’t afford an in-house photographer. Maybe they’re lying. But maybe they aren’t. If it’s true that other vegan publications (names?) have managed to hire an inhouse photographer and still remain a profitable business, then that’s something to consider. But if it came down to two options: 1. use non-vegan stock photography and continue to sell magazines promoting veganism, and 2. hire an inhouse photographer and go under, wouldn’t you prefer they go for option number one?

    • KD April 16, 2011 at 10:38 am - Reply

      Mimi, Okay- I’ll agree that the VegNews Awards are considered promotional- still, if you don’t have the money for the basics (vegan photography for a vegan magazine), then why create expensive promotional programs like the awards? Why not lower the promotional budget to gain money for a photographer? I get that they need to sell magazines, I’m not disputing that. I am questioning to what extent they should be promoting veganism, if they can’t afford vegan photography.

      T.O.F.U. Magazine addresses the vegan stock photography here -> http://www.ilovetofu.ca/2011/04/14/t-o-f-u-100-meat-photo-free-as-we-should-be/

      It’s worth the read.

  9. amanda April 16, 2011 at 9:02 am - Reply

    This is really well said. I was most bothered that they use photos of living animals, being tortured in factory farms, to implore people to take action against animal cruelty. Meanwhile, turns out they’re using photos of dead animals to implore people to eat. I certainly hope they have a more meaningful apology and demonstration of change in the works.

  10. mimi April 16, 2011 at 8:05 am - Reply

    I think this post is a little naive, particularly in the third point of your response. You are suggesting that they cut PROMOTIONAL endeavours until such time as they are able to afford both a vegan photographer and self-promotion, but your point ignores the fairly obvious obstacle here. If they cut promotion, how the heck are they supposed to ever afford a photographer? The point of promotion isn’t kicks and giggles, it’s to sell their product. Without selling their product, they are certainly not going to ever be able to afford a vegan photographer.

    I agree that passing off non-vegan photos as vegan is dishonest (although it’s certainly not in the same category as feeding non-vegan food to a vegan), but until I hear a practical alternative from any member of the vegan community, I’m inclined to believe that one doesn’t exist.

    • KD April 16, 2011 at 8:13 am - Reply

      Mimi, I agree that promotional products aren’t for kicks and giggles. But again, they knew prior to starting their magazine that it would require the use of vegan photographs. Further, other publications are faced with the same issue and have either done it in house, or hired someone to do it for them. The easiest and most practical solution is to hire a photographer to take photos of vegan food. And as much I am thrilled to be a VegNews Awards Winner, those certainly aren’t necessary to sell their magazine. I didn’t say cut all promotions, I said cut back. (I didn’t use the McDonald’s example to insinuate that it was the same, only to demonstrate that a company can take responsibility for their actions and work towards doing things better in the future.)

  11. FatGayVegan April 16, 2011 at 7:54 am - Reply

    Thank you for this incredibly thoughtful and poised response to the frenzy. I won’t buy the magazine as long as it publishes photos of animal products. There is a lot of over-embellished posturing and accusations going on regarding this drama but my stance is simple: Not for a second would I consider paying money for a magazine that publishes meat and dairy served as a meal.

  12. Ryann April 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm - Reply

    sigh. Thanks for this. Now I feel like I can relax. I have been crazy grouchy for the last 48 hours! It was baffling to me how people who get so worked up about much less significant things were so blasé about the false representation of butchered animals in a publication that thrives on vegan dollars. It’s all about disclosure.

  13. Carrie (Carrie on Vegan) April 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    You are more forgiving than me. You have done a great service to our community for bringing this issue to light. Great job!

  14. Sarah April 15, 2011 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    Very well put! I agree 100%

  15. Emily April 15, 2011 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    YES! THAT! THAT, THAT, THAT, THAT, THAT!!! *points wildly at above post* Thank you for publicly saying what I’ve been privately saying since this whole mess started. This isn’t about picky, pesky vegans, it’s about integrity. Or the lack thereof. (It’s also about responding to questions about said lack of integrity with a hidden, half-assed humble brag in the guise of an “apology.”)

  16. Dani April 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    YES YES YES to this post! This is the most mature and well-thought out post I’ve seen since all of this started. I would support VegNews if they admitted they did wrong and changed their ways. Otherwise, I do not want someone like VegNews representing the vegan community if they can’t even be honest to their loyal readers.

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