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

I grabbed this from VegNews, who may have gotten it from a stock photo site, and it might not be vegan. Just putting it all out there.

I grabbed this from VegNews, who may have gotten it from a stock photo site, and it might not be vegan. Just putting it all out there.

Guys. Didya hear? VegNews has been using stock photos of non-vegan food on their site and in their magazine as if they were vegan photos snapped by the mag’s staffers, QuarryGirl pointed out yesterday. Someone, start a riot! No, wait. Actually, before you cancel your subscription and torch their offices, let’s think about this.

Let me start by saying that if you get their newsletter, read their magazine, or visit their website, you have to know that these are stock photos. Case in point, yesterday’s newsletter recipe for Vegan Peanut Sauce with Spinach & Tomatoes includes this photo of peanuts next to a jar of peanut butter that is so obviously not the recipe. (Side-ish note: I’ve always been a little frustrated by their recipe photos for this reason: I have no clue what this thing is supposed to look like when it’s done because they sent me this ridiculously untelling stock photo.)

And if you know they’re using stock photos and you gave it any thought, you’d probably conclude that these can’t all be vegan stock photos. I mean, when was the last time you bumped into a vegan stock photo site? If you have, please tell me, because I might like to use it.

Then, you little detective, you, maybe you flip through your other magazines because, hey, VegNews can’t be the only publication that uses stock photos, and there, more stock photos. As Erik Marcus points out on Vegan.com, pretty much every magazine uses stock photos here and there as a matter of practicality.

Thing is, VegNews doesn’t say, anywhere, ever, that they’re using stock photos, and yet we have to assume they wanted us to think this was vegan food, in some cases, that they photographed. Which makes you feel a little deceived, doesn’t it? It wasn’t just one time, either; as bloggers I think we’ve all made the mistake of forgetting to credit someone’s Flickr photo, YouTube video, or whatever, and then one of your co-bloggers gently reminds you and you fix it and you try not to do it again. But VN has done this repeatedly. And as QuarryGirl commenter kristin, who says she was a short-time copy editor at VN, notes, she brought the meaty photo problem to their attention when she worked there, and they ignored it.

So you have two problems: that VN used stock photos in a misleading way, and that said photos depict non-vegan products. And then a third, worse problem: they seem to be covering it up. If they were fine with letting their readers know that many, many of their images come from the internet and not a staffer’s camera, they’d credit the source of each image they used. And now, as commenters on their website are pointing out that their magazine photos are actually of dead animals, VN is, uh, deleting their comments. And THEN they issue this response, which doesn’t address that whole lying and deception thing. Why?

It’s too nice outside for me to sit around guessing, so let’s just move forward. What should we expect from VegNews today? I think VN needs to:

  • Make a statement on their front page about their use of stock photos: What was their policy on image use and content up to now?
  • Tell us, why are they deleting comments?
  • Promise to credit all images they use on their site in the future and clearly explain their policy going forward.
  • Use only real, first-hand photos for recipes. Recipes should come alongside a photo of the process or finished food, not a stock photo.
  • And while they’re getting their act together, why not also put out a call for photographers? I’m sure some aspiring vegan food photographer would love to snap shots for them on a regular basis, am I right, you guys? Somebody?

But I don’t think we can expect them to take their site down and remove every stock photo they’ve used, as Marcus suggests, nor should we give back our VegNews awards or unsubscribe from their magazine, as QuarryGirl has done (unless we bought the magazine strictly for its awesomely generic photography).

Like many of you guys, I’ve been enjoying VN for years, and, actually, least of all for the recipes. I find many of the stories fascinating, love the vegan jobs section, get pumped for awards season, learn about vegan products I hadn’t known of, and am glad there’s a vegan magazine out there.

Let’s help our cause and our friends at VegNews by assuming they mean no harm and will change, or at least make transparent, their policies on photography. And let’s direct them to some awesome vegan photographers — I know you’re out there!

23 Comments

  1. Comment by

    Susie

    on #

    Here’s a whole slew of vegan stock photos.

  2. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Putting photos of a different recipe next to a recipe is silly, sure. But I respect that VegNews is correctly gauging their readership in assuming that a shiny, well-styled picture is preferable to an accurate one.

    The biggest problem is the deleting of comments and the attempt at a coverup.

    I do find their assertion that every time they “use an image that isn?t vegan, our entire (vegan) staff weighs in on whether or not it?s appropriate” far-fetched. But maybe it’s true.

    I’m also bothered by their posting the response as a PDF, rather than as web content. It’s divorced from its comment thread, and not subject to the same level of tracking, crawling, and caching as it would be otherwise.

  3. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Another thing–what the heck are they implying when they say it’s saying it’s “not financially feasible” for them to get vegan photos?

    They don’t pay most of their writers, so I assume they’d have no compunction using volunteer photographers. Maybe they mean the editorial expense of commissioning and curating the pics?

  4. Comment by

    Tracy

    on #

    I shoot all my own food! (With a camera, not a gun. Vegan!) If I can’t get good photos, I don’t effing blog about it. I have never cooked from a VegNews recipe before (like you, I buy it for the articles and the ads), so I had never noticed that they have posted pictures that don’t match up with recipes. It blows my mind…I can’t even… What? Anyway: http://www.theveganbutcher.com I work two jobs and still manage to take pictures of real vegan food. Seriously, it can be done.

  5. Comment by

    Lilith de Sade

    on #

    I love Veg News and won’t stop my subscription, but non vegan stock photos for a veg magazine is definitely not cool. Dead animals done up and turned into food, has no place in a veg publication ever, for any reason.

    This would probably be a great time to plug my 365 days of vegan food on Flicker! http://www.flickr.com/photos/57917430@N08/
    Viva vegan food photography!

  6. Comment by

    JanetG

    on #

    If they’re actually making the recipes, there’s no way stock photos are cheaper than taking their own digital photos. This really calls into question whether the recipes are reliable if they are not actually being tested.

  7. Comment by

    guest

    on #

    Wait, wait, wait. WHAT magazine credits the stock agency that they bought their stock photo from? That’s part of the agreement when you buy stock. Part of buying a photograph on these types of terms is that you don’t have to credit the photographer or the stock agency. The only time you usually see credits for photos in magazines is when they have commissioned an image from a photographer and that is part of the photographer’s agreement, that’s not usually the case with a stock agency when you’re dealing with generic imagery of things like food. Lilith, I don’t know if you’re implying that VegNews should use your photos or if it’s just a shameless, unrelated personal plug, but they are unusable for print.

  8. Comment by

    vegandb

    on #

    A well-reasoned, and reasonable, response. Is it disappointing? Yes. Should we ask for transparency? Sure. Do I wish the recipe pictures matched the recipes themselves so people could know what the finished product? Would be nice. But, should we throw them to the flames? No.

    VegNews is a vegan-run venture intended to promote a compassionate, vegan lifestyle. If they have to use photos that cost less to be able to promote that cause without going under, so be it.

    Conclusion: VN has admitted that they do this, and explained that it’s for affordability reasons, a very legitimate response to anyone who knows how expensive hiring a photographer for a million pictures is. If folks want pictures of the recipes themselves, help VN out by snapping the pictures and sending them (for free) to the magazine to help them in their efforts. That would rectify the situation without hurting a great vegan business that is doing an excellent job of promoting veganism, and miraculously staying on the shelves in a remarkably hard climate for print publications.

  9. Comment by

    jenna

    on #

    thanks, Anne. i think this was a really well-written and reasonable response.

  10. Comment by

    beanmail

    on #

    Excellent, rational points, Samantha. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who has always been frustrated by the fact that no matter how hard I dissect the photo with my eyes, it does not match the end possibility of the ingredients listed in the accompanying recipe!

    Other than that, what vegan do you know that DOESN’T photog most of their food? If VN needs photos, there are photos to be had.

    That being said, I do not believe that canceling your subscription solves anything. VN is imperfect in many ways, but I’m glad they exist.

  11. Comment by

    Sam C

    on #

    I’m a complete amateur with a camera — the only lesson I’ve had is a ten-minute instructional from a friend at a picnic on how to use the manual function. And yet(!) I manage to take what I hope are decent photos of things I cook and post to this blog. If you’re not posting original photos of a recipe, it makes me wonder if you’ve ever actually made that recipe. And that reminds me of the Irma Rombauer character in Julie & Julia who’s all, “No, dear, of course I didn’t test all the recipes!” in The Joy of Cooking. Which had very few photos, and millions of people bought it. So I’m all for real photos or nothing. But I’m still more for vegan magazines than no vegan magazines!

  12. Comment by

    Tracie

    on #

    Great post, Samamtha! It’s refreshing to know that I’m not the only person out there that doesn’t think that this is the end of the world.

    Yes, they probably should have mentioned that these were stock photos somewhere, but am I outraged that they used them? Nope. Magazines do that all the time. If we got pissed over every misrepresented thing in a magazine, we’d never buy a subscription to any of them.

    What I’m wondering is what people are more upset about: That VegNews used stock photos or that they’ve been, unwittingly, drooling over images of meat and dairy all this time? Guilt tends to fuel the most anger and if guilt is the reason, people shouldn’t feel guilty.

    These faux meat companies have been trying to duplicate the look and texture of real meat for years! This just goes to show how good faux meat products have become – even vegans couldn’t tell the difference. That says a lot for vegan food! :)

  13. Comment by

    garyloewenthal

    on #

    In my limited experience putting out a newsletter, we relied heavily on stock photos; it was the only practical way to grab publication-ready photos, day after day, of a wide variety of subjects – espeically on a moment’s notice, which seems to common in publishing. So it’s a not a simple problem to fix. That said, now that the problem’s out in the open, I think the only solution that would satisfy the core readership, and that would be the most pure, would be to use all-vegan photos, so it’s good that creative solutions are being discussed. Let’s do this constructively and we’ll make a tasty (well-photographed) lemonade out of this.

  14. Comment by

    Hal

    on #

    I don’t understand you guys and girls – this is NOT a vegan magazine anymore and actually it NEVER has been – get it?!? Until that changes they are not getting a dime. I can talk about being vegan all day but the second I contribute to animal slaughter (read: buying and supporting pictures of dead animals) I am no longer vegan. Get it??

    This is a great representation of American ignorance. I’m going to continue to contribute to the lies and turn a blind eye to my morals just because I like the oh so witty articles. Oh well its just a little meat…let’s not give them a hard time, they are trying their best. It’s soooo hard to run a magazine. blah blah blah. F That.

    Are some of you actually going to ignore the truth as long as you get what makes you happy regardless of how it affects anyone else…even the animals you “pretend” to love so much.

    Good luck coming back from this one vegnews – the real vegans are going to keep you down till you own up and become a truly vegan magazine. I suggest the rest of you do the same.

  15. Comment by

    vegbuddhalife

    on #

    VegNews should be applauded for its thoughtful articles and overall hip, informative and stylish representation of the vegan lifestyle. I hate to be one of those people who say “I always knew…”, but in all honesty, I did and it bothered me. The photographs were not only clearly not photos of vegan product, but they were not photos of the recipes they were run beside. As a result of this flagrant misrepresentation I was never encouraged to try their recipes.
    While I will not cancel my subscription because I believe the pros of VegNews far outweigh the cons, they should be taken to task and held responsible for this misconduct. Blaming the situation on cost is preposterous. Ask any of the bazillion vegan bloggers out there taking absolutely lovely, legitimate photos of their own recipes. Ask them how they’ve done it VegNews, and then ask them to do it for YOU.

  16. Comment by

    vegbuddhalife

    on #

    Also, I must comment on this statement from JasonDas:

    “Putting photos of a different recipe next to a recipe is silly, sure. But I respect that VegNews is correctly gauging their readership in assuming that a shiny, well-styled picture is preferable to an accurate one.”

    Really? The readership would rather look at a picture of a beef hotdog and *imagine* that it is a tofu pup, than look at a picture of an actual tofu pup? Then the readership is delusional in the extreme. How can one claim to embrace a lifestyle but never want to look at it??

  17. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    @vegbuddhalife “How can one claim to embrace a lifestyle but never want to look at it??”

    Something tells me you don’t look at very many lifestyle magazines …

  18. Comment by

    jenna

    on #

    oops, I just realized that Samantha wrote this piece, not Anne. it’s still awesome, I just felt dumb for crediting Anne in my post above.

  19. Comment by

    Ryan Patey

    on #

    Personally, the “apology” VegNews offered is what irritated me the most. I don’t really see any sense of regret or commitment to change in what they wrote, and that is far from an apology in my books. I’ve published a vegan magazine, T.O.F.U., for several years now, and we have always relied on contributors for photos and content. I’d like to think we’ve maintained a quality publication, as well as our ethics, while doing so. Hopefuly, VegNews will step-up to the plate and ask their readers for help instead of telling us all that this was the only way to do things.

  20. Comment by

    Veganne

    on #

    No worries Jenna–I like getting credit for things I didn’t do ;)
    For the record, I am siding with gaprimack on this issue (hi Gretchen).

  21. Comment by

    stephanie

    on #

    Although, much out the outrage has been a bit hysterical, it is more than reasonable that vegans want to open their vegan lifestyle magazine and not see pictures of corpses. It is not hysterical for me to upset by the fact that I drooled over what I thought were vegan riblets but were actually pictures of a mutilated and abused pig served as food.

    Veg News has been very dismissive of these concerns and has failed to take responsibility of the intentional cover up of using non vegan photos, failed to apologize for using these photos, and failed to say the would STOP using those photos. Veg News use of non vegan stock photography has spread to the NYTimes and other publications and has now become an international embarrassment for vegans by reinforcing the false notion that vegan food is not good.

    When I found out this upsetting news, I did not grab my pitchfork but instead presumed that Veg News would be respectful of their readers and apologize and change their policy. That was all I needed to move on and continue to read the otherwise fabulous publication. Unfortunately, this has not happened. I am waiting for Veg New to issue an apology and to agree not to use pictures of dead animals in their magazine.

  22. Comment by

    Christina

    on #

    Okay, so I totally agree with everything except for one thing…what magazine actually says they use stock photos? I mean, everyone uses stock photos. Some of the biggest publications that can afford big photo shoots also use stock photos, and maybe I’ve just never looked in the right place, but I tend to be one of those people who look at photo credits, and most publications don’t credit stock photos. It’s because they don’t have to. Stock photos are generally royalty free and the photographer in question puts their work on these websites so it used for a one time flat rate, by anyone.

  23. Comment by

    lindafern117

    on #

    As a former photo editor, and one that did food shots, I can attest that is very expensive and difficult to get it right. Just because you took three minutes to take a photo with your Iphone for your blog doesn’t mean it’s a good shot. Take a look at Saveur magazine (avert your eyes when you see meat, of course), that’s how the big boys do it.

    Tempest in a tea pot, I love VegNews.

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