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Vegan Planet: An Open Letter

Monday, April 18, 2011


An Open Letter

Dear Friends,
In recent days, a few of you have written to me to express your concern over the VegNews debacle. I am, of course, saddened by the situation. It's good to know that VN has now apologized. Hopefully it will help heal the damage that has been done to the vegan community by all the divisiveness.  On a personal level, I am also disappointed that “stockphoto-gate” has cast a suspicious light on the covers of my two recent vegan cookbooks, Party Vegan and Vegan on the Cheap. I’d like to share some facts about the publishing industry in general, and my books in particular, to help everyone gain some much-needed perspective:

In my experience, it is written into most standard book contracts that the author has no “approval rights” in the final cover design of a book. Sure, I can tell a publisher what I’d like to see, but they are under no obligation to comply with my wishes. On good faith, I generally trust that a publisher will choose vegan photos to illustrate my vegan recipes.

When my two recent books came out, I didn’t go searching for the stock photo images to see if they were labeled as vegan or not.  I assumed they were. At the same time, I knew it was also possible that certain ingredients weren't even real food of any kind, since it’s well known that professional food photographers don’t always use real food.  For example, they sometimes use shaving cream to represent sour cream and vegetable shortening in place of ice cream. (I actually think the “feta” on my VOTC cover looks more like little Styrofoam pellets than it does feta, vegan or otherwise.) I simply accepted the photos as representations of my recipes. Now that I’m aware of this issue, I will, from now on, insist that vegan-only photography of my recipes accompany my work.

As many of you know, vegan cooking is my activism.  My purpose in life is to provide vegan recipes to as many people as possible through my books, articles, and other media. I do this primarily for the animals and also to help improve everyone’s health.  I stand by the quality of my work, my books, and my recipes.  I encourage all my fans to please continue to enjoy my recipes in Vegan on the Cheap and Party Vegan—the recipes are what really matter, and the content is 100% vegan. 

As the old expression goes, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” — don’t punish me, (or yourselves, if you like my work) just because a company chose to illustrate my work with a few questionable photos. I promise to be on guard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Getting veganism into the mainstream has been an uphill battle for those of us who can consider ourselves veterans.  I’ve been writing vegan cookbooks since the mid-nineties (even though back then most publishers wouldn’t even allow “vegan” in the book titles!) I will continue to work hard every day to make veganism a viable force in this world. Because the VN story has been all over mainstream media, it has already done damage to our vegan community that is only now achieving credibility in this omni world of ours. I implore the otherwise well-meaning people out there to please put this issue into perspective and direct your attention and energies to more important matters. Let’s get back to making great vegan food, helping animals, and living healthier, happier lives. I look forward to continuing to develop and share great vegan recipes. If you have any questions about my work, I hope that you will contact me directly.

Most sincerely,
Robin Robertson

UPDATE:  VegNews has issued an apology. My original letter has been updated to reflect this new development. Maybe we can put this behind us now.

Robin, I completely agree with you. I'm also an author, of books on parenting and breastfeeding rather than cooking, and I've had more than one argument/battle with publishers over photographs. Writers don't get to approve the photos, and even our strongly-voiced opinions are sometimes ignored.

I hope VegNews can weather this storm and find a way to source affordable vegan photos. Meanwhile, I want to support the publication for all the good things it does.

Teresa Pitman
I suggest you do one better and insist on only photos of food from your recipes. That way the cover will truly be representative of what's inside.
Dear Robin,
The following is what I posted on FB regarding this controversy and I feel the same concerning your books:
"Shen J C Robinson
I am disappointed, too. But having a background in periodical journalism, I'm happy to give them a break (somewhat!). Yes, digital photos are easier to come by now. However, magazine deadlines are ferocious and Veg News has done an incredib...le job promoting a vegan lifestyle for many years. They do say they make these decisions with consideration and I truly believe one reason we choose veganism is our sense of compassion. That compassion needs to be extended here, as well. There are horrific problems right now on our planet by way of man's violence and acts of nature. Perhaps, it is because I am 64 years old and have been a vegan for so long that my heart reaches out in that direction rather than be upset with a periodical that, much more often than not, is on my side.Veg News has done more than any periodical to make veganism, on every level, accessible."
You have always been a hero of mine for being committed to veganism and making vegan cooking accessible, not intimidating and very easy!
With wooden spoon in hand, I urge you to "cook on!".
You have my support and gratitude!
Much Love, Robyn. I agree with everything you said.

I stuck up VegNews and I will stick up for you. You're a pioneer. Don't forget that.


Keep being fabulous!
"I implore the otherwise well-meaning people out there to please put this issue into perspective and direct your attention and energies to more important matters. Let’s get back to making great vegan food, helping animals, and living healthier, happier lives."

Perhaps I am just naive, but I always thought photographs on the covers of cookbooks were photographs of the dishes therein. I think that's the assumption that most people make (at least those unfamiliar with publishing practices). It just seems misleading otherwise.

Yes, the photos on your book covers should be vegan, but they really should also be photos of your recipes.
I remain loyal! I stopped by your Facebook page with much the same sentiment.

After some thoughtful consideration, I guess I wasn't truly surprised at the details of the VegNews scandal; I have long been suspect of their recipes. However, I was saddened to see your name in the captured images on QG's blog when the scandal broke. Unlike VN's recipes, I have always had confidence in VN's "legitimate" contributors' recipes (and I own many cookbooks by the same contributors).

All the in-fighting and negative backlash within our usually wonderful community, as a result of the VN scandal, is disheartening to say the least. So, I appreciate the level-headed responses of the more even-tempered and "seasoned" vegans out there. :)

So, long comment short: thank you for the wonderful cookbooks and the lovely blog. You made my vegetarian-to-vegan conversion several years back so much easier! ♥
I LOVE your cookbooks!

I have no reason to be disappointed in you or your cookbooks. I don't really pick a cookbook by the cover, I pick it from am author who I like or on reviews I read if I am not familiar with the author.

You, your recipes, your cookbooks, your attitude, heck you rock! You have never let me down.

Keep up the excellent work! I for one, will continue to support you.

Thanks for the info. Now I know why my dishes look different. But faked photos are not a reason to give up a healthier way of life. I don't buy your books for the pictures. I buy them for the great recipes!

Keep up the crusade. We are still making progress!

Virginia Beach
Thank you all for your support and kind words. And I totally agree: the goal from now on will be actual photos of my recipes! (What a concept!)
I'm glad to hear it. I'm hoping that all of this will give you a bit more clout with your publisher when similar issues come up in the future.

I like the Quick-Fix Vegan cover, by the way -- an attractive alternative to a photo of a finished dish.
As an owner of many of your books, I appreciate your honesty in regards to your covers, like one of the previous posts, I buy them because the content is fantastic and I always make a winner when I cook from your books...... Not because I thought the photo on the cover was or wasn't Vegan.
I hope this whole controversy, brings about open discussion and not too much more vitriol. I too believe that VegNews is doing more good than harm and think perspective is needed here,( although I do think their apology sucked)
A loyal fan from Down Under
Thanks for your honesty in this matter, and the information about publishers. I agree, there are definitely more important things to worry about. Although I buy cookbooks for the recipes (including most of yours!), I do remember one time buying a book solely because of the chocolate cake picture on the front cover. That recipe was no where inside that book! It seems silly to me that totally unrelated food would be pictured on the cover, instead of actual food from the book.
Guess I am surprised that VegNews did not use photos of dishes from the test kitchen, but I also don't know what the budget for photos is. HOWEVER. It is becoming increasingly more easy to provide your own photos, assuming you are actually doing the testing.

The internet is just awash in tips for doing your own food photography, and I can attest that it doesn't have to be godawful expensive. Any sort of photography needs practice, for sure, but acceptable results are not that hard to achieve- just look at some of the fine photography coming out of food blogs that didn't exist a few years ago.

No worries- while it is dissapointing it is also fixable. accountability is good!!
there are far worse problems to spend a lot of energy on.
carry on, head high, tofu in hand....

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