Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

"Honesty is the best policy. When there's money in it." -Mark Twain

VegNews, a vegetarian lifestyle magazine, is in some pretty serious $%&# with their readership. 

Quarrygirl.com, an LA-based vegan blog, did a little digging and found that a few of the food photos VegNews used both in their web- and print-based publication, were not in fact bona fide vegan. As it would happen, they were stock photos purchased from iStockPhoto.com, one of the most frequented stock photo resources in the world. 

Example: VegNews publishes a recipe for a vegan "meatball" burger. Right next to it, however, is a stock photo originally tagged as a photo for purchase at IStockPhoto as being made of, well, meat. Or worse, a vegan seitan rib dish pictured with another stock photo purchase where the bones of the ribs have been surreptitiously airbrushed away (!) in the article's production cycle.  

Accordingly, the vegan blogging community saw red; they felt like they'd been victim to an en-masse editorial conspiracy. VegNews' Facebook page became a veritable screed fest. QuarryGirl.com called for subscriptions to be cancelled and (of course!) duly returned a web award they had received the previous year from VegNews. Bees in bonnets all around from us salad-munchers, indeed. 

It was sort of like The Pelican Brief. For vegans.

But as a vegan and as a fan(ish) of VegNews, I was a touch put out. Especially as it could be said that initially, the editorial team didn't take the criticism particularly well. Though they've wrung their hands, backpedaled, and swore to do more to ensure all their photography runs vegan, they remain a little sour over the entire affair. I don't like being played for a sucker. (Or at least discovering about how much of a sucker I am).  

However, as someone who has worked for several magazines, from some of the most-read pubs in the country to the tiniest community newspapers, part of me had to roll my eyes at the melee. Photo sourcing, styling and production are the most expensive yet fraudulent aspects of magazine publishing, bar none. A little Google search on some of the tricks of the trade in food styling is enough to give anyone's eyebrows a stretch. A lot of food photos rarely depict what is included in the actual recipe, and if it does, it's been prepared to be photographed by seasoned professionals whose  are highly-trained and paid to make food look good. Aside from the high-end foodie magazines, most publications use stock photography at least a hefty portion of the time. If anyone tells you different, they're lying. 

For example, if a magazine is presenting an article on say, "greening" lawn care. Do you think that the gorgeous stretch of emerald turf set alongside the text was yielded by entirely environmentally sustainable means? I would deign to say hardly ever. Is that Fair Trade coffee ad featuring a group of smiling plantation workers actually depicting, well, for-real smiling plantation workers? Not on your life. And if they are, they've likely been cropped, air-brushed and colour-fixed to a point whereby they are essentially unrecognizable from pre- to post-production. Does it make the substance of the page any less important? Perhaps to some, but I would hope not. 

"I like my photos pretty and cheap. I don't care where they come from as long as it's legal." Or so I once heard a well-known Canadian art director for a magazine quip to his delighted underlings. Ethical, not really. Stark necessity, perhaps. As consumer magazines are scrambling for every sale and publishers set staffers' heads rolling for even the smallest dips in readership from month to month, accurate use of accompanying photography isn't likely to clamber upwards anytime soon. Rest assured that most magazine art departments will remain (mostly) ensconced in the land of turning pumpkins into carriages for years to come, and we'll be the feckless dunderheads wondering why our vegan pavlova came out looking like a puddle of baby vomit. (Or rather, *I* will.)

Truth be told, I'm happy Quarrygirl.com smelled a rat, amassed the troops and let fly. Lots of vegan bloggers, myself included, use vegan photos to depict vegan food, even if at times it looks... unappetizing. Honesty, if expensive, remains the best policy. At the same time, I feel for VegNews -- publishing a principled consumer mag is very nearly a hopeless business if you care to keep a spot in newsstands. But they've said they're sorry; let's give them another chance, shall we? 

Keep it clean, Vegetarian Times — you very well might be next! 

**Image borrowed from Quarrygirl.com. Who borrowed/messed around with it from VegNews.com. Who are, I am sure, really, very sorry.