by Michael dEstries
Categories: Eats.

By now, a good chunk of the online world has heard of VegNews substituting supposed photos of vegan food with meaty counterparts – thanks in large part to far-reaching coverage by CNN, NPR, AFP, NY Times, Gizmodo, Gothamist, and others.

In the wake of the scandal being blown wide open by QuarryGirl, one of our own, Michael Parrish Dudell, wrote a great article coming to the defense of the embattled mag. While I agree with much of what he said, I firmly believe that the magazine’s reaction to the controversy has come up short.

Perhaps most disappointing to people, including myself, has been the clam shell policy of VN since issuing their “response letter” a day after the news broke. The vegan community is not only very passionate, but also very tight. There’s lots of love there, as well as trust, and in comments posted hundreds of times, many have been more bewildered it seems by a lack of open dialogue than by the actual crime itself.

Being humbled sucks – and there have been many times on this site when we’ve screwed up on due diligence involving something and have had to put our pride aside and ask for forgiveness. The fact that VegNews is continuing business as normal (and, in fact, posted another non-vegan photo yesterday to their Facebook page) is regarded as ignoring the concerns of its audience. And let’s face it, we’re nothing without our readers, something it takes years to build in terms of trust and dialogue.

I know there are many, many out there that still love VegNews – love their reporting, the people involved, and respect everything they’ve done for the veg scene these 11 years – but are having trouble getting over the silence. It’s almost as if there’s a machine at work here instead of the soulful passion so prevalent in the vegan scene – and so very often represented on their pages.

There’s another aspect of this issue that VegNews has failed to consider and that’s social media. Hell hath no fury like a vegan scorned and with every subsequent issue published, the magazine is risking a witch hunt over every photograph, posted on blog sites, Twitter, and discussed ad nauseum on the company’s Facebook page. In other words, this outrage will linger for a very long time the more VegNews chooses not to address it with more sensitivity.

I agree that they’re just photos and that these things are expensive – but I also understand the viewpoint of people who subscribe to a vegan magazine expecting vegan content. I guess my question to VegNews is: Do you really want people second-guessing your content all the time? Every month?

My suggestion is to open the doors of dialogue and invite the lashes. Earning that trust back won’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen at all if an apology isn’t offered and a road to making the magazine even better laid out. Everyone screws up, sometimes in a dramatic international news-making way, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be an opportunity to grow. Let your readers help.

About Michael dEstries

Michael has been blogging since 2005 on issues such as sustainability, renewable energy, philanthropy, and healthy living. He regularly contributes to a slew of publications, as well as consulting with companies looking to make an impact using the web and social media. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his family on an apple farm.

View all posts by Michael dEstries →
  • mmstp

    Wise and thorough observations! Being called on the carpet can be an opportunity, but it does not appear that VegNews is taking advantage of that opportunity. Additionally, vegan or not, my naive expectation is that a photo representing a recipe IS actually of that recipe. I am hopeful that their audience gives them another chance and that VegNews uses that opportunity to improve and cement their followers. It would be a shame to lose this valuable resource.

  • Eva @ Four Leaf Clover

    This is one of the best responses I’ve read on this entire topic. Thank you Michael dEstries for telling it like it is. I sure hope VegNews say something (i.e. apologizes) soon because it seems as though it’s become a battle between the vegans who are hurt and between the vegans who don’t care. I’m beginning to wonder if ANY of their photos match up the actual recipe (vegan or not). So many people are lending a hand to help and are starting to feel as though it’s been slapped away.

  • quarrygirl

    best response i’ve seen yet.

  • Rachelle

    Cheers! :)

  • Butch

    This is so spot on. Handle your business, VegNews!

  • Erin Elizabeth


    How fortunate we, the readers, are to have two talented Michaels at Ecorazzi! I’ve said from the beginning that I have mixed feelings on the subject but you really expressed yourself perfectly..

    I think that would be the best course of action. Let’s just hope they follow through.

    PS- really another NON-vegan pic on facebook today!? :( I was at least hoping “QuarryGirl’s” thoughtful expose would encourage them (or scare them straight) into only using 100% vegan photos from here on forward! :-/

  • VeggieBear

    I have cancelled my subscription. Too often it seems as though it is “us” and “them”. When you can no longer trust one of “us”, they become “them”. If I wanted to read about the latest trend in weddings, there are better “them” magazines to turn to for information and enjoyment.

    It really comes down to a violation of trust compounded by a dismissive arrogance…similar to Bob Parsons & GoDaddy. Instead of shooting elephants, it was ribs!

  • Cathleen

    I’ve followed this story with mixed emotions because I hate to completely discontinue support for an organization that I believe does so much good for the general population, but I am also truly disappointed and saddened by the news of the photography. It’s embarrassing for us to put ourselves in a position to have naysayers attack us and say, “See, nobody thinks your food looks good, even your best magazine!” We all know that’s bogus.

    All the negative rhetoric back and forth between passionate vegans only harms us as a whole, and I really hope VegNews realizes this and will make a sincere effort to change their policies. To start, they should address the re

    Perhaps VegNews could consider issuing a revised apology letter that looks a bit like this:

  • Open Heart



    VegNews staff and owners posting false insinuating things about people, vegans, the community, concocting wrong information, against its own subscribers, followers, etc, and bad-mouthing vegans, vegetarians, and good people with no apologies and snobbishness.

    Quote: “I agree that they’re just photos and that these things are expensive” -What’s next? A photo of a vegan bodybuilder that’s not vegan but eats meat? Articles about food where a product is talked about like some kind of can of vegan safe vegetable soup, and then lazy too cheap VegNews features a stockphoto picture of a can of some brand name and someone who cares for animals like a little girl goes and thinks that’s the one and buys it only to find out to her horror that it contained beef broth and pieces of pork? “Because it’s too expensive?” and they need to be cheap? What if some company hired kids instead of adults according to law and hid it, ‘because they can get them to work cheaper’, what else have they misrepresented across 11 years and in all their articles, that now nothing you read Vegnews can be trusted? And why not take the picture free with one’s own magazine reporting staff camera?–this tells you they probably haven’t even tasted the food or made it and tested it. Otherwise they could have just taken a photo of it when they made it. This tells you they haven’t even done that, yet the staff are coming up with opinions, and recommendations, and writing “facts” about it when in reality they may have just been making it up, with no experience with it at all. Just paying themselves with subscriber money.

    Quote: people may still…”love their reporting”?-You can’t TRUST their Reporting. so..No! “love the people involved”? -Love the people who use deception, and then did it again? and then again? No. “and respect everything they’ve done for the veg scene” -Like what, made the vegan scene and vegans the laughing stock across the world on CNN, NPR, Gizmodo, and the New York Times by duping the vegan community, and then not only not apologizing, but posting ANOTHER falsified pic? NO.

    You realize by VegNews doing this, every meat-eater who bullies vegans, even in school will now be going “har har har! see you stupid vegans have to put REAL MEAT in your pics of food because you know vegan food tastes horrible, you needed REAL MEAT ha ha ha.” Vegnews has now contributed armory to bullies, made vegans a laughing-stock, made vegans the target of the butt of jokes, and not only that, by purchasing that meat photo, are contributing financially to the popularity of that one at that stock photo place, in turn compelling potentially to obtain More such good-selling photos which are made out of meat, and now you’ve got a VegNews magazine contributing to the deaths of more animals too. Exactly what every nice person here takes great care in their heart to avoid!


    And read what vegnews did. Or put “Open letters to VegNews” in GOOGLE to see tons more from people about things that Joe Connelly, Owner, Colleen Holland, Owner, Elizabeth Castortia, Editor, did.

    Even leaders in the vegan community have been disrespected and looked down upon by haughty, we-dont-care, ‘just give us your dues’ VegNews.

    This is not a 1 time thing for the staff and owners of VegNews, this is a track record of behavior disrespecting people, and hoodwinking and duping everyone in the public.

    Do the “click on my name” up top, thing to see another VegNews debacle at that link.

  • Kristen

    great article ecorazzi – best I’ve seen so far!

  • Melissa

    GREAT piece, Michael! You echo my sentiments exactly. When I read the response from VegNews I was very disappointed that they didn’t, first and foremost, apologize to their readers; second, that they seemed to blame the messenger for what was their mistake in choosing to use non-vegan photos; and third, that they just threw up their hands and said that it’s what they had to do to survive in the publishing world. To me that’s unacceptable. They rely on their readers and their readers are overwhelmingly demanding a complete overhaul in their photo selection procedure. In my opinion, VegNews could’ve taken this ball and ran with it…embraced the opportunity to do better. Instead they’ve finger-pointed, made excuses, ignored and even tried to silence their critics. I agree with MPD’s assertion that there shouldn’t be in-fighting within the vegan community. But the vegan community is also deserving of acknowledgment and respect.

  • herwin

    “I agree that they’re just photos and that these things are expensive.”

    @ Michael.

    involving and working with rotating non profesional veggies doesn’t have to be a organisational nightmare at all and produces excelent results.

    I, a non profesional photographer, it’s not even my hobby..) myself was asked to take some photo’s one time by the glossy japanese vegetarian magazine Veggie Steady Go, and these photo’s were used, no fee, only my credentials in this mag for a Thailand article.
    This is standard for VSG to contact fellow veggies in other countries and use their photo’s.

    The excuse of VN that photo’s from no profesional fellow veggies can’t be used, is a very lame excuses.
    With a real veggie and ethical (both ethical for veganism as well as for making a quality magazine ) spirit they could have made the best veg mag of the world, instead it’s a crappy mag with fake veg photo’s and articles about health and vitamin pills, and of course the smearing unfair article in which Ching Hai the founder of the vegan Loving Huts was trashed with no real facts, only internet information. Let me tell you, if a non veg journalist would write an article based only on information he did get from the internet…? It would be a very freaky and unrealistic article, me thinks.

    Anyway, i really loved your way of commenting on the whole affair.

  • Deanna

    Excellent and thoughtful piece.

  • Lisa

    One of my greatest concerns was the number of responses both to the QuarryGirl article and to the response letter put up by VegNews, from people saying they had worked/interned for VegNews in the past and had repeatedly raised concerns about the issue but were ignored and overlooked. It’s that kind of behavior over time that concerns me greatly. To know that something is going to be a serious issue for your readership, to be told about it, and to choose to ignore it because so far no one knows, doesn’t strike me as the kind of ethical outlook that I’m in alignment with. The measure of our character is how we behave when no one is looking. Well, people are looking now.

  • Jayne

    Everyone needs to lighten up. A mistake was made, an apology was issued. There are real tragedies in this world – where people are tortured, raped and/or murdered. But posting the wrong photo is not the end of the world.