Saturday, April 16, 2011

faux fare and photos - time to weigh in

So, the veg-world is all atwitter (literally, in some cases) about a recent expose´ on about VegNews magazine using stock photos in their publication.  Anyone who is not "in the know" is probably wondering what is so bad about using stock photos - well, it just so happens these stock photos contained animals and not when they're all cute and fuzzy.

Feel free to check out the post, but I encourage you to also read the comments and maybe head over to a few other sources of information about this whole debacle.  There are really two battles being fought here and I feel like I've spent enough time reading compassionate, though possibly misguided defenses and venomous, movement-demeaning attacks to share my own thoughts now.  I absolutely invite dialogue via the comments section, but having seen how fired up people are getting about this, I do request that anyone who wants to share their thoughts does so in a respectful manner.

So, like I said, there are really two issues going on here and as far as I can tell, most people are picking one and ignoring the other, whichever is better suited to their own passion.  To be completely honest, I am feeling vaguely ambiguous about this whole thing - I have not yet had a defined, strong feeling push me one way or the other, though this has certainly been a brainbug for me the past few days.

I have slightly less to say about the first part, so we'll do this first: People are tweaked because the magazine used stock photos that included actual meat and/or dairy products to represent recipes or products.  Okay, I get that - the major public outcry is that this demonstrates a severe lack of integrity.  Integrity is very important to me, so I can go along with this one.  Is it deceitful and underhanded of a magazine that actively promotes not just a vegetarian diet but rather a vegan lifestyle to use pictures of dead animals?  Absolutely.  Do I think they were wrong?  Absolutely.  Then, just in case there was any hope for the staff of VegNews to reclaim their lost integrity, they made damn sure no one thought they were apologizing.  The "letter" they published on the website was very well written and can easily be read in a placating tone.  A person could almost accept their apology...if one had actually been offered.  Instead, VegNews's mea culpa sounds more defensive than it does regretful - as though the only thing they're actually sorry about is being caught.  At no point do the authors of the letter actually say "I'm sorry," when those two little words would have saved them a lot of grief in the long run.  Instead, they dug their hole a little deeper, and it will take even longer for them to find their way out.

As I was eating my dinner tonight (alone, since Mister fell asleep early), I decided to glance through my new issue of VegNews, which arrived on the date all this controversy began, coincidentally.  As I turned the pages, each time my eyes fell upon a picture, I caught myself wondering if it was also a stock photo and if I should be trying to decipher some digital manipulation, or if it really was a photo of a vegan culinary delight.  To be truthful, that led to the collection of thoughts that chased me over to my computer, determined to get out the words that keep repeating themselves inside my head.

You can't (really) fake a picture of a carrot.  Short of chopping up and bleaching beef fat, you aren't likely to have animal products in a picture of hash browns.  I can't think of a single part of an animal that looks like broccoli.  If you can, please do not share :)

Some people are saying that VegNews is making vegans look bad to omnivores; they say it looks like we're all starving for what we've chosen not to eat.  Well.... why are we looking for ways to veganize BBQ ribs, then?

What keeps going through my head is faux fare.  Think for a moment, folks.  We have Daiya and a bunch of other vegan "cheeses."  For heaven's sake, there is a whole cookbook devoted to making vegan cheese.  We have Gardein and Boca Chicken patties and Tofurky sausages, not to mention "deli meat" slices by LightLife, Tofurky, and Yves.  I'll excuse the original Tofurky roast since it was intended to help veganize a holiday that reeks of death to those of us who don't want to rip the flesh off of a dead bird with our teeth, but even that fits the paradigm.

What paradigm?  Glad you asked - the one that says we need to have something "equal" to the meat eaters' entree choices in order to "keep up" or be fulfilled and satisfied.  Think for a moment on the inordinate amount of time we spend scouting out, preparing, reviewing, and scrounging for meat substitutes?  The most coveted honor in vegan cooking?  From what I have seen, it appears to be the perfection of a vegan mac 'n' cheese recipe.  I see this quest represented in almost every cookbook I own, on almost every blog I've ever read.

Please don't think I don't count myself amidst the guilty, friends.  There have been times I have embarrassed myself with the amount of "fake meat" and/or "fake dairy" in my grocery basket, times that I have cringed as I placed my items on the conveyor belt at Whole Foods and wondered if the cashier thought ill of me.  I regularly buy Tofurky deli slices for Mister (it's my way of making up for not buying him cheese anymore), I probably buy Tofurky sausages as frequently as I buy tofu, and it is a rare shopping trip I don't leave without a carton of soymilk.  Other culprits?  Soy yogurt, soy/rice cheese, daiya shreds, Yves ground "meat," Gardein "chicken," veggie burgers, non-dairy ice cream, vegan hot dogs, vegan meatballs.  I could probably go on, but you get the point.  I am not immune.

I am, however, self-aware.  If we are afraid that omnis will see this debacle and think vegans are a bunch of crazy people who really just want what we "can't" have, we need to recognize that this is an indictment of ourselves, not a magazine that is trying to give us what we want.  Do you want a review of the top 5 veggie hot dogs as we all prepare to fire up the grills for the first time this spring?  Well, please don't be surprised when a magazine uses a stock photo rather than taking some crappy picture of one of the dogs only to have the manufacturers of the other 4 calling and emailing to find out why they didn't photograph their dogs.  And don't be scandalized when it's a stock photo of a "real" hot dog.  First of all, there is nothing "real" in hot dogs - just lips and a**holes, folks.  Second, aside from being a psycho-stalker and checking every photo they print against a database of stock photos, can you really tell the difference between artificially pink "beef/pork" and artificially pink soy?  I can't.

If all the people who are spending their time railing against VegNews and using inappropriate forums to make their point would use their energy to examine their own diet and consumer behavior for a moment, they might understand why [lack of integrity notwithstanding] this really isn't a good reason to tear down a magazine that is trying to do some good in a world full of abuse and hatred.  Did the staff of VegNews deceive us?  Yes.  Did they apologize?  Not yet, that I'm aware of, and I still really think that would be their most appropriate next move if they have any hope of salvaging their really good publication.  Regardless of this whole situation, for the last 11 years, this magazine has been on the forefront of a movement to draw the good things of veganism into the mainstream.  Having won a prominent place on newsstands everywhere, I'd say they have been instrumental in spreading "the good word."  Using deceptive photos does not discount the fact that every single recipe is unapologetically vegan, every product they promote is vegan, and the overall focus of the magazine is highlighting vegans and helping lower-profile folks become better, more thoughtful, more educated people. 

VegNews was a large contributing factor in my decision to go vegan.  I didn't flip through a magazine or two and say "wow, those pictures of fake mac 'n' cheese look so good!  I guess I can be vegan now."  I carefully read the features, examined their advertisements, sifted through their "favorite" products.  After garnering as much information as I could, I decided to give it a go because their words, their promoted products, and their recipes (with or without pictures) gave me hope that I could give up the things that hurt the world without losing out on things I love (like chocolate).

I had intended to review our dinner at Horizons (last night) and maybe poke some fun at how miserably I eat when I don't cook for Mister and I, rather than writing a manifesto on looking in the mirror before casting that stone.  All of that needed to come out, though, so thank you for reading it.  Like I said, I welcome your thoughts on the matter as well, but please state them respectfully.  As a reward for making it this far, I'll let you see how uncivilized I can be when Mister sleeps through dinner - it's especially ironic, given the point of this post, that dinner tonight was leftover "meatloaf."

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some tasty vegan coffee cake to attend to.  I do plan to put it on a plate.

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