Faux Meat Faux Pas

Don’t let the title turn you off .

Whether you eat meat, veggies or lead chips from your flaking bathroom wall, you can weigh in on this one. It involves meat and deception ensues…

There is some controversy stirring in the world of VegNews, a magazine that calls itself  the "premier magazine to focus on a vegetarian lifestyle.” No, it’s not about the ethics of eating meat or not, but rather about the ethics of the publication itself. And actually, the editorial integrity of any publication.

It seems the magazine’s fake meat photos were actually pictures of real meat.

I saw the story on Slashfood, and I’ll summarize in case you don’t want to read the whole thing. If you really have no patience, there’s a question at the bottom.


It turns out VegNews has been using real meat photos to accompany its recipes, as a vegan blogger," “QuarryGirl,” discovered and documented. She’s posted several examples of stock photography of meat dishes in which VegNews has used as an image of a vegan dish (she was quite the investigative reporter, I must say.)

The "Vegan Spare Ribs" recipe used a photo of actual meat ribs, with the bones photoshopped out, and a picture for Seitan Stew was actually an iStockphoto titled "Chicken Breast Soup." Other examples include hot dogs with actual meat and macaroni and cheese with actual cheese.

There were a lot of examples and absolutely no doubt about the scam—it was totally blatant.

A former VegNews intern commented that everyone on the VegNews staff was fully aware of the “meat and dairy photo policy,” and a former copy editor echoed backed that statement up.

Slashsfood ends the piece by saying that the VegNews Facebook page has a slew of disappointed commenters as well, some of which are claiming that their comments are getting deleted and that the magazine hasn’t commented yet on its photo policy.

My Two Cents

As a vegetarian, I wasn’t offended by the fact that real meat was used. Hell, I didn’t have to eat it or anything. But as an editor and (sometimes) reader of the magazine, I was offended that this hypocrisy now called all credibility and editorial integrity of VegNews—and magazines in general— into question.

If there were dishonest enough to use meat in the pictures—something ethically offensive to most of their their readers—what could be trusted? To publish a recipe and then include a (stock) photo of something that isn’t even the real finished product is lazy, irresponsible and ridiculous.

I don’t think I need to argue that point, and I won’t be reading in the future.

But then I started a little debate in my head. How is this really different than the mass amounts of photoshopping, airbrushing, etc. that happens 99.9 percent of the time in other magazines.

“Stars Without Makeup” sections of magazines should really be called “stars wearing a crapload of makeup in neutral tones.” Heads are put on different bodies, things are cropped out and enhanced— with a few exceptions, close to nothing that’s published is an accurate portrayal of what someone “famous” looks like.

The only sticking point with my argument there was that meat is offensive to most VegNews readers, and the magazine didn’t respect that or it’s readers enough to be honest and responsible with their product. They were deliberate in their actions over and over.

As an editor and a reader myself, I can’t imagine ever being okay with that. 

I couldn’t be.

So, where do you come out on the Faux Meat Faux Pas specifically or in editorial integrity in general?

Is this situation similar to that of celebrities in magazines? Completely different?  Would it matter if it were just online and not in print?

Time to share…

12 responses to “Faux Meat Faux Pas

  1. I haven’t heard about this yet! I am honestly quite shocked. I do agree that it is similar to the airbrushing and photoshopping of celebrities in magazines. However, I think VegNews went too far. They know their readers are primarily reading their magazine because of the simple fact that they don’t eat meat and many of them are passionate about it. So for them to use pictures of real meat and claim that its fake is completely unacceptable. I am still in shock. Eek! Thank you for bringing this story to my attention!

  2. “If there were dishonest enough to use meat in the pictures—something ethically offensive to most of their their readers—what could be trusted? To publish a recipe and then include a (stock) photo of something that isn’t even the real finished product is lazy, irresponsible and ridiculous. ”

    I second that. And although I see your argument about photoshopping stars etc, I think it’s not quite the same. I mean, you can enhance a food pic by improving the light etc like you can “improve” a star by psotoshopping.

    The essential point, I think, is this: If you see, e.g., Gwyneth Paltrow (totally random) without make-up and photoshopping, she may look different but *she is still Gwyneth Paltrow*. If you see a picture of a piece of tofu, you would expect that, even without photoshopping, *it would still be tofu, not a sparerrib*.

  3. I personally think it’s kind of stupid to pick on them when in fact, it’s pretty well known that any food photo you see whether it’s in “VegNews” or whatever, or in a Burger kind ad, is not going to be the actual thing you will get if you buy the burger or make the recipe. There are actual people who’s job it is to make the food look perfect and they use all kind of tricks and I’ve even seen on some television show where they’re making the food with completely inedible things just so it LOOKS GOOD. And it’s like you said, no one is forcing you to eat the ribs in the picture!

    • I know a lot of magazines use stock photos and I have no problem with that. But in this case, it goes against their values and the core of what they’re all about. I really don’t care, but I can see why others are ticked off. I think the magazine made it much worse by deleting reader questions/comments and not addressing the issue at all, simply ignoring it up to this point. Being passive-aggressive is kind of insulting to their readers in another way, although they’re probably just figuring out how to handle it. I’m sure something will come up soon.

  4. To be honest I have no strong opinions about this. If I put myself in the readers shoes I guess I can kind of understand the ire, though bc I don’t think meat is a bad thing it’s harder for me to grasp the offense in using real meat.

    But I also think most magazines are a business, not a form of journalism. They are trying to sell their product, and sales, sadly, requires fabrication. Plus…I suppose real meat just looks much tastier, though I agree with you that this was a pretty unethical thing to do.

  5. This is very disturbing and I’m an infamous meat eater. I always cringe when people post recipes and show a picture of food that they didn’t take. Then I make the recipe thinking I’m an idiot because my food looks nothing like the photo!

    This reminds me when Kate Winslet was pissed that british vogue switched her legs with some other model’s legs. But her legs didn’t look delicious either way.

  6. My very first reaction to this goes back to an issue I have with vegetarian food trying to be just like meat. Like pressed tofu made to look like ribs or things like “chikn” made out of god knows what. What’s wrong with embracing the meatless eating and not worrying about faux this or that?

    My second reaction is I’m grateful not to be a reader of this magazine. I know about photoshopping and airbrushing to make things look just so but it just seems wrong to use photos of a dish that are not even in the same ball park as the recipe or dish you are talking about. I’m not sure why doing this to food is more upsetting to me than with celebs but it is.

  7. Well said, Abbey.
    I don’t have a very strong opinion but I do think that most vegand go out of their way to not support the meat industry in any way, so by being a “consumer” of the magazine they are indirectly supporting the purchase of meat because the stock photos were purchased and the photos required the purchasing of meat.
    Vegans have a lot of mental energy to be thinking about all this. I need a nap. I agree with you…it’s not right particularly due to the fact the magazine is promoting a paticular “issue.”
    It would be similar if the offices of “Mother Earth Magazine” did not recycle in the workplace or if (this is stretching it) a Gay Rights magazine hired writers or models who claimed to be gay but really they just needed a job so they pretend they are “gay” and proceed to wax poetic about gay issues as if they knew firsthand.

  8. Abby – not Abbey.

  9. i saw this too and quite frankly, had the same reaction as you. the fact they used meat photos wasn’t the issue for me but rather as someone who majored in journalism, the ethics and reputation of a publication that would do that is troubling to me. i don’t read the magazine, so i am not that offended but that is my two cents…

  10. i do think it’s a terrible call on the magazine’s part, both because using photographs of meat is ethically a problem for their readership (and i would hope for the editorial staff as well!), but also because i think recipe photos ought to actually be of the dish produced by the recipe. truth in advertising and all that, even thought i know food can be styled to look way better than what most every home cook can turn out.

    what’s interesting to me though, is knowing that a good portion of photos by food stylists don’t actually get made of the food they purport to represent. my friend worked at a commercial photo lab and they were often given food items left over from a shoot, but only a small portion of it was edible — because food either doesn’t hold up well under lights over time, or because it just doesn’t look right in the photos and other things (like lard for ice cream comes to mind) were used to substitute so that the photo would look like consumers’ mental images of the product. so it makes me wonder what the ‘meat’ photos were really made of? sure, the spare ribs one is obvious, but…

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