Beware of Anonymous Vegan Bloggers: VegKitchen

The following article was first published on The Vegan Tourist.

A few days ago, I updated my blogroll, and mentioned that I don’t like it when bloggers keep their identity secret. I joked that Rika & Doni of Vegan Miam might not be be real people, and that their blog might be “run by a corporation (trying to influence consumers with fake personalities).”

Today, I’d like to elaborate on that point. I spent some more time surfing the net for vegan blogs, and came across the following website: VegKitchen. The blog’s subtitle reads “Leading a Vegan Life.”

Whenever I check out a new blog (vegan or otherwise), I read the “About” page. I want to know who publishes a blog or website. We live in an age where corporations and politicians constantly try to influence our opinions and our consumer behavior and monetize our data, so I always make sure I know who I am dealing with.

On VegKitchen, there’s no “About”-page. This immediately makes me suspicious. So I scroll down to the bottom of the page, where I find the following information: “Vegetarian Recipes from “Oh My Veggies.” I click on the Oh My Veggies website, and my suspicions are immediately confirmed; because on this website, they’re not “leading a vegan life.” On this website, vegan and vegetarian recipes are published.

So who are the people behind these two websites?

On Oh My Veggies, there’s a small box in the right-hand top corner, where a photo of a beautiful young couple is published. It is oh-so-perfect, and it is immediately clear that these people are models, and not the site’s bloggers. Yet the text below this photo identifies them as the blog’s owners. I don’t believe it, and no names are given, which ads to my suspicion.

I return to the VegKitchen website and click on the link to their Privacy Policy at the bottom of the page, where they explain how they use my data – “they” being a corporation: 301Brands, LLC. I google the company’s name, and find their official website, where they explain what they do. They publish a number of lifestyle blogs.

I click on one of their brands: Wably. And all of a sudden, I am on a lifestyle website where recipes are published which contain meat and fish.

I click on another one of their brands, Beauty Hacked, a website which focuses on women’s cosmetics. I decide to google the following term “cosmetics firms animal testing,” and find a blog entry on PETA’s website, “These Beauty Brands Are Still Tested on Animals.” I can’t tell when this blog entry was published, so some of it might be old information; but I decide to pick one brand at random, which is mentioned in this article, Clinique. I then search for Clinique on the Beauty Hacked website, and immediately find a blog entry, where Clinique products are mentioned and recommended.

I then check the Privacy Policy on the Oh My Veggies blog (scroll to the bottom of the page), and find that the blog is published by another company, Spork Brands, LLC. This company only has one static page with little information, so I return to 301 Brands, LLC. While I find information about 301 Brand’s team members, I don’t find any information about who actually owns the two websites.

So I google “who is Spork Brands, LLC.” I find an article about this company on Digital Journal, “Spork Brand Closes on First Round of Digital Acquisitions.” And here I finally find the first useful information, as it establishes a clear link between Spork Brands, LLC and 301 Brands, LLC. I also find a name, “Matt Arceneaux, co-founder and CEO of 301 Brands.” Spork Brands, founded in 2017, has purchased the websites Oh My Veggies and Veg Kitchen from 301 Brands. “Spork Brands is backed by a consortium of private investors with experience across a variety of industries.” It is a company which targets women by publishing “niche lifestyle sites.”

I google Matt Arceneaux’s name, and find an article on Marketing Dive, “Report: Major brands scammed in extensive fraud scheme linked to US ad firms.” I read the full report on BuzzFeed News, “Ad Industry Insiders Profited From An Ad Fraud Scheme That Researchers Say Stole Millions of Dollars.” This article ties the ad scam to 301network, to 301 Media and Arceneaux – and to VegKitchen. To summarize, ads from major brands were misused through a “special code that triggered an avalanche of fraudulent views of video ads” by approximately 40 websites, 12 of which were connected to Arceneaux, according to BuzzFeed News. Read the article, it will blow your mind.

So there you have it. I went from “leading a vegan life” on VegKitchen to a vegetarian blog on Oh My Veggies to an omnivore blog on Wably, to a cosmetics website and on to a PETA website about cosmetics & animal testing, and finally to allegations of fraudulent activities.

How’s that for a vegan blog?

Do I really want to use such a site? VegKitchen tries to cash in on the vegan trend, as so many companies do these days. As vegans, we must not let ourselves be exploited by corporations who want to monetize our data and our passions. As a vegan, do you really want to purchase something from a “consortium of private investors,” most of whom probably aren’t vegan themselves and invest the money they make from you on who-knows-what (but probably not on vegan causes)?

Your consumer choices matter. Be vigilant, and always make sure who you’re dealing with when you click on a blog or website.

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