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A Word From MPD: The VegNews Scandal Of 2011

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The current article you are reading does not reflect the views of the current editors and contributors of the new Ecorazzi

Earlier this afternoon, my colleague Michael d’Estries posted a story that is slowly but surely shaking up the vegetarian world. Last night, QuarryGirl.com revealed that VegNews – the nation’s leading vegetarian magazine — has, on occasion, used nonvegan stock photography alongside vegan recipes on both their website and in their magazine. While, of course, one might suspect a handful of negative reactions from this revelation, the mass hysteria that has occurred throughout the vegetarian community in the last 24 hours is nothing but flagrantly obscene.

At first glance, it’s understandable why some people might find this idea strange. Why would a vegan magazine use nonvegan images? It isn’t, however, until one examines the issue more thoroughly that the line begins to blur.

As a privately owned publication with no outside funding, VegNews has done the near impossible by lasting 11 years and securing prime real estate in bookstores across the country. Currently, the popular magazine reaches over 1 million readers each month, including herbivores and omnivores alike. As VegNews points out in a letter on their site, occasionally using nonvegan stock photography is sometimes the only fiscally possible way to procure high-quality magazine-style images. Sure, it’s not ideal, but it’s not criminal either.

While some online critics have suggested VegNews source user-submitted photos, anybody who’s ever worked in publishing knows this suggestion isn’t logistically possible. With time-sensitive deadlines, detailed specs, and other provisions to consider, sourcing photos would be more trouble than it’s worth. Ideally, VegNews would have an in-house photographer, but being an independently owned company on a conservative budget prohibits that option. These are only some of the challenges the outspoken naysayers don’t seem to be considering.

Instead of discussing the situation with the staff of VegNews in a thoughtful way (as opposed to leaving a comment on their website) or gathering enough information to fully understand the issue, the activist who broke the story chose to wage war, proudly canceling her subscription and enabling others to do the same. What’s more, a small handful of highly-regarded bloggers have jumped on board to reprimand and call into question the magazine’s editorial integrity. And this is where these particular activists are getting it dead wrong.

If the goal of the whole game is to celebrate and promote a vegan lifestyle, how does relentlessly bashing an organization that has spent 11 years championing our shared mission make any sense at all? That’s an easy answer: it doesn’t. What it does do is create the appearance of infighting that not only confirms but exacerbates the common stereotype that vegans are frustratingly rigid and ruthlessly pugnacious. I’d argue, moreover, that the activist who spends his time didactically preaching such a silly message has lost focus entirely. The most effective advocates know that speaking up for a cause is not about one’s own delicate sensibilities but about the larger picture as a whole — in other words, the goal of the fight; not simply “the fight.”

Like all senseless flailing, this momentary hysteria will eventually die down and the hotheaded shouters will no doubt find something else as equally unimportant to scream about. The sad reality is that in the wake of this nonissue issue, VegNews will probably suffer temporary losses. And that, my friends, is a real honest-to-goodness shame.

When activists ask what advice I can share, I always say the same thing: when advocating for any cause, remember that very often strategy is more important than emotion. It’s not always an easy thing to hear, but it’s often the truth. Today we will have wasted thousands of collective hours ranting and raving over a handful of stock photos when we could be focusing on the issues that truly matter. How totally and completely silly.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, I shudder at how many more must be shed before this silly conflict is finally put to rest.

Full Disclosure: I have contributed to VegNews Magazine in the past, and would happily contribute again. All opinions expressed in this column are mine and mine alone.

Michael Parrish DuDell has been a senior editor at Ecorazzi.com since 2007. He is currently the managing editor of The Domino Project – a new publishing company started by Seth Godin and powered by Amazon.com. You can follow Michael on Twitter, find him on Facebook, or email him at mparrishdudell@gmail.com.

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