I don’t know about you, but I find the whole controversy surrounding VegNews’ use of non-vegan photos in their magazine to be pretty disturbing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the deal in a nutshell. VegNews is a vegan magazine. Vegan. As in, no meat, no dairy. But it turns out the photos they use in their magazine are actually stock photos, often of meat or dairy products. For instance, in this article called “Vegan 101: Food”, which talks about how great vegan food is, the photo at the top is actually a beef burger. So when they post about vegan hot dogs, the photo is actually of a regular hot dog. (I considered saying pork hot dog or beef hot dog, but really don’t want to dwell on what is actually in a “regular” hot dog.)
VegNews was exposed yesterday on Quarrygirl’s blog, and of course the fit hit the shan. One could hear the collective jaw drop of foodies around the globe. VegNews responded, saying it would be cost prohibitive to take their own photos of vegan food, so they use stock photos even though they are sometimes actually meat. Here are my brief thoughts on the matter, of course from my own non-vegan perspective.
What you don’t know can still hurt you.
People often say what you don’t know can’t hurt you. I call bull. If your spouse is cheating and you don’t know, it still hurts you. If someone steals from you and you don’t know, it still hurts you. And guess what, if you are a vegan being duped into thinking the pictures in your magazine are not actually meat, it hurts you! Veganism is challenging, and it’s something people choose because they feel very strongly about the treatment of animals. To purchase and display photos of meat and dairy in a magazine that stands so strongly against these things is just plain wrong.
It’s a tough economy.
Of course, things are more complicated than that. Could the magazine survive if it were forced to purchase only vegan stock photos? Or to hire a food photographer and publish their own photos? Could the magazine survive if it used fewer photos, or only photos that didn’t include any meat (i.e., salads!)?
I’m in business, and I know these are tough circumstances to face. Regardless, a business should not knowingly deceive its stakeholders. At the end of the day, you cannot publish photos in your magazine that are in fundamental contrast to your principles — and those of your readers — while playing them off as something else.
As a non-vegan, my biggest “huh???” moment with all this was that the photos the magazine printed alongside recipes were actually stock photos, not photos of the actual recipe. I’m sure that VegNews is not alone in this, but it honestly bugs the heck out of me. If you’re posting a recipe, and there is a photo next to the recipe, the photo should be of the finished product! One blogger pointed out that in the magazine, the photo next to a cream pie recipe is a stock photo, not of that recipe. That’s just absurd, deceptive, and beyond wrong.
What now, VegNews?
As someone who reads dozens of food blogs every day — and there are hundreds more that I don’t know about yet — it blows my mind that VegNews would claim there are not vegan photos available for their website. Have they ever checked out the vegan blogosphere? So many talented bloggers taking so many beautiful photos. Mama Pea? Averie? Those are two very popular bloggers who fill their websites every day with drool-inducing vegan photos. The list goes on and on and on.
So no, it’s not enough to simply say that it’s cost prohibitive to use vegan photos. You’re a vegan magazine. Photos of actual animal ribs with the bones photoshopped out is unaccpetable.
VegNews should have been honest. They should have let their readers know the challenge they had getting vegan photos. They could have held monthly photography contests. They could have created their own stock photo database from the thousands of gorgeous images available. They say they exhausted all options before resorting to stock photography.
I call bull.
I hope we’ll see VegNews make some immediate changes following their public pantsing yesterday. Just looking at the front page of the food section of their website today, you have to wonder, are those chunks of tofu or processed chicken? Is that a fish- or cream-based sauce? Reading through the comments, it’s obvious that people are angry. VegNews should have been honest and they weren’t. They should have stood up to their principles and they didn’t. What now, VegNews? I can’t wait to see.