Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Real Issue Behind the Big VegNews Boo-Boo

Full disclosure: this is a real pepper.
Like many people, I was a bit surprised to read that VegNews had been caught passing off retouched stock photos of meat and dairy dishes as vegan faux-meat and dairy dishes. And it is a bit jarring when an outfit so dedicated to vegan and animal rights causes turns out to be using photos of dead animals in its publications--outrageous, some would say. But there are two things I haven't seen mentioned anywhere that I think need bringing up:

The first is that in the food styling business, cheating is rife. Those mouth-watering dishes you see in magazines (and on glossy menus at low-end restaurants) are most often inedible. Food stylists use all kinds of sneaky tricks to get that look--a little hair spray, shoe polish, perfectly cut styrofoam "cakes," in short, whatever it takes to make the "food" in the picture look appealing and delicious. I'm against this practice myself--all of the photos in my books and on my blog are real food (which I eat and share after the shot is taken). However, I do know that it's very common in the industry, so I'm not terribly shocked when a magazine "fakes" a shot--nor do I consider it a gross betrayal of the magazine's ethos. It's merely standard practice, and I don't believe anyone meant any harm. I've met some of the people who produce VegNews and I admire both their intent and their dedication. 'Nuff said about that.

More to the point is the other, unaddressed and--I think--much more anti-vegan issue, which is the fact that food is being tarted up to imitate meat in the first place. Think about it: if there were no market for "I can't believe it's not (fill in the animal)" stuff, there would be no meat-imitative products out there. No issue of  anyone being bamboozled,  no big stink, and no one at VegNews would have been compelled to apologize. Seriously.

A friend sent me a link to a New York Times article about this scandal, and as I perused it, one sentence jumped out at me:

Angry at being taken in by the images, one reader commented on the magazine’s Web site how awful it felt “to have craved any of the foods featured here, because now I feel I was craving animals.” 

Uh, sweetie, you were (and you are) craving animals. That's why you drool over pictures of food that look (and you imagine, taste) just like a cheeseburger or a juicy rack of baby back ribs. That's why there is a multi-million-dollar industry gleefully developing and churning out fake meat and dairy products. If no wanted to have their cute farm animal and eat it too, these products wouldn't sell, period. This is the real source of the controversy. If people didn't crave recreational drugs, drug dealers would have to find other (far less lucrative) work.

I'm new to the 100% plant-based diet thing. I've only been eating this way for a couple of years. And maybe I'm not typical, but I take what I feel is a straightforward, common-sense view on this:

If you're going to leave something behind, don't bring it with you.

Now, I know there are a lot of well-intentioned people who have decided that they don't want to participate in the exploitation and cruel treatment of animals, and this is what drives their dietary choices. I find their commitment admirable. However, they have a glaringly vulnerable flank if they haven't made a clean break from their former carnivorous bent, because it leaves them open to being taken in by images (and dishes in unscrupulous restaurants) that not only look like meat and dairy, but (surprise!) actually are what they appear to be.

Please understand, I don't mean to accuse, much less offend anyone. I'm simply pointing out the chink in the vegan armor. No one likes to be played for a fool. So it's understandable that when it got out that the pictures everyone believed to be of fake meat turned out to be photoshopped images of real meat, feelings were hurt. And it's understandable that injured feelings led to the pointing of fingers. But let's face it--if no one was eager to enjoy all the fun of eating animals without actually eating them, the fake food and the fake photos would never have existed.


  1. Great article and progress toward the elimination of torturing animals is a must if we are to progress as humans. I know the comment is a bit powerful in tone, but I suspect that if steak eaters could participate in the process of herding, killing and butchering a cow, they might not enjoy that next ribeye quite as much. The process is beyond nasty and cruel and not necessarily for the acquisition and maintenance of nutrition.

  2. Great read today. It always surprises me how naive people can be, they see it and they believe it (really). It is even the beautiful models we see in the magazines, come-on you don't think those aren't touched up a bit.
    Anyways good post today, thanks for the link to the original article.

  3. Thanks! I appreciate your stopping by and your comments.

    We live surrounded by fake imagery-- political, religious, social, economic--it's all designed to bend our thinking and (especially) our will. Awakening and remaining awake is the supreme challenge every human being has faced from the very beginning!