The Internet has been ablaze the last few days with heated debate. Vegan-aimed magazine VegNews has been exposed by blogger Quarrygirl for printing digitally-altered photographs of meals made using dead animals and presenting them as visual accompaniments to vegan recipes. The outcry from long-term and casual VegNews readers has been overwhelming, while a substantial amount of readers don’t seem to be offended much at all.
I am outraged as a vegan, but I’m about to take you on a different journey. My rant is not one simply of distress at having been fooled into looking at murdered animals while being tricked into thinking they look tasty. No, I am approaching the VegNews fiasco from a broader angle of certain misrepresentation and possible deceitful provision of product/services.
Back in the day, the early 90s to be more precise, I was a teenager madly into music. Madonna seductively clung to my bedroom walls, Public Enemy powerfully educated me via my stereo and Morrissey practically insisted I do nothing for days on end but listen to his releases. I knew what made me happy and I always got what I paid for. The same couldn’t be said for some of my friends.
One of my best friends was a guy named Glen Fox. Glen was the one in our gang who somehow always managed to be a bit behind the 8 ball. His taste in music was certainly eclectic. I recall music shopping with Glen on the day he bought a Milli Vanilli CD. I was vile and teased him mercilessly. You can imagine my sheer delight when the entire Milli Vanilli act turned out to be a sham and the two ‘lead singers’ (Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus) hadn’t contributed in any way to their Grammy Award-winning recordings.
I promise this story is going somewhere other than affording me the opportunity of getting another kick into poor Foxy. The Milli Vanilli case turned into a media storm of epic proportions. The band was stripped of its Grammy award, dropped by its label and subjected to ferocious hounding by the press. Class action lawsuits were filed across the US and a rebate scheme was devised wherein consumers were given an opportunity to claim back a percentage of the cost of Milli Vanilli CDs, cassettes, records and concert tickets.
Glen Fox was sad and dejected as he applied for some of his expenditure back. Milli Vanilli‘s management and record label conceded consumers were justified in believing the music videos, album sleeves and promotional appearances showed the two lead singers of the band, when in fact Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus hadn’t sung a note. Some money was returned to consumers because what was presented as a legitimate product was in fact fabricated, untrue and dishonest.
I understand my Milli Vanilli analogy was a tad wordy but I believe it hammers home the message rather clearly. When people are in a video mouthing along to lyrics and posing on album covers, consumers understandably imagine they are the legitimate performers. They have the right to demand an explanation and perhaps compensation when it is proven to be a false representation.
Enter VegNews. When a colour photograph is nestled beside a vegan recipe within a market-leading vegan magazine, readers will assume the photo is free of animal products. The visual and written texts, VegNews’ billing as a vegan magazine and the publishers wish to be known as “the best meat-free reading you’ll find anywhere” all combine to suggest that the paying reader is purchasing photos of cruelty-free meals. With no disclaimer stating otherwise, VegNews has for years presented its content as something it clearly isn’t.
Milli Vanilli were stripped of awards and companies that profited from the deception apologised publicly and profusely before offering partial rebates to disgruntled consumers. VegNews has offered an explanation for their practice but no apology and, so far, no talk of compensation for loyal consumers who have paid money for a product that isn’t what they were led to believe.