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.
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?
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.