"BiteLabs grows meat from celebrity tissue samples and uses it to make artisanal salami." So proclaims the copy on BiteLabs.org, right under an all-caps call to action: EAT CELEBRITY MEAT. The site proposes taking actual tissue samples of celebrities—specifically, James Franco, Kanye West, Jennifer Lawrence, and Ellen DeGeneres—and growing their cloned meat for use in a marketable salami blend.
It's admittedly pretty funny. Having spent a month drinking Soylent and wading through press releases about Google Burgers and in vitro meat, BiteLabs seemed to offer a reasonably clever, well-executed satire on the Silicon Valley food tech trend.
Pitch-perfect parody of contemporary startup, right down to web look and feel. #eatcelebritymeat! http://t.co/7YvOqIdGO7
— John Wilbanks (@wilbanks) February 26, 2014
But if it's just a joke—as any half-concious participant in the age of viral marketing ploys and social media hoaxes immediately assumed it to be—then its creators are willing to take it pretty far.
The operators of the site, which was created last month, began its publicity push on February 25th. They fired a volley of tweets at celebrities and journalists (including me) proclaiming that BiteLabs was "the future of celebrity meat."
Curiosity piqued, I headed over to the site, which explains how it plans to cultivate edible meat from cloned celebrity tissue samples: "Isolating muscle stem cells, we grow celebrity meat in our proprietary bioreactors." Then, it's time to prepare the stuff: "In the tradition of Italian cured meats, we dry, age, and spice our product into fine charcuterie." BiteLabs also encourages you to tweet at celebrities in hopes of getting them on board.
Wanting to share a quick laugh with whoever was behind the stunt, I emailed BiteLabs. Instead of a winking reply, I got a series of lengthy, sincere responses that had obviously been written by someone who'd internalized Silicon Valley's vernacular, but didn't overtly appear to be mocking it. They were signed only 'Kevin from BiteLabs."
Kevin says there are five employees who "are working full time on this" and that while there is no product ready for market, they are "100 percent serious in prompting widespread discussion about bioethics, lab-grown meats, and celebrity culture—this is very important to us. Making celebrity meat a reality from there will all depend on our ability to build a user-base."
But he did insist that there was a product on the drawing board.
"The product is indeed salami," Kevin says. "Each salami will have roughly 30% celebrity meat and 40% lab-grown animal meats (we're currently looking into ostrich and venison but it pork and beef are more popular in our early research). The rest will consist of fats and spices. This break-down comes from consultation with expert food designers and chefs." If BiteLabs' Tumblr is to be believed, it will look something like this:
Kevin says the project was indeed inspired by Google: "Our process is very similar to existing methodologies used to make the Google Burger, just tailored to human muscle instead of cow."
Kevin refused to disclose any of the names of the people involved in the project, including the "bio-engineers and food designers," saying they "requested to remain anonymous due to the controversial nature of the product."
So, this is either a startup looking to gin up some cheap PR to pave its way into the lab-grown meat market, an activist group like PETA carrying out a spoof campaign, or a satirist very committed to his prank: "On the subject of seriousness—we’re not sure what the market is for celebrity meat. We’re in startup mode at the moment though—our first goal is to connect with our user-base and find celebrities interested in participating."
When I pressed him for any hard details at all, Kevin refused to relent. "In terms of hard info, we are a recently formed startup that is trying to get off the ground to provoke a dialogue around what we see as an emerging market space." This from a guy that claims he's serious about selling us sausages that are 40 percent Kanye West.
I'll post the entirety of "Kevin's" emails below, because why not:
Our team is deeply interested in food-culture, celebrity & media as well as thinking about the future. Other than highlighting bioethical issues, we are also interested in the way celebrity culture is consumed and hope that there is some kind of back-handed commentary on that. To develop Celebrity Meat, we're working with a group of bio-engineers and food designers, most of which have requested to remain anonymous due to the controversial nature of the product.
As for our current campaign, we are hoping to generate celebrity interest and involvement so that we can develop a prototype with celebrity meat. In-vitro meat has the potential to revolutionize the meat industry, with both environmental, animal rights, and eventually economic benefits. We hope that our campaigning efforts will confront people with the very real possibility of a lab-grown meat future.
As for the response, all I can say is that twitter is blowing up, and we've been blown away. We estimate BiteLabs has been tweeted about over 3000 times in the past 24 hours, and our site has gotten some 100,000 views at the time of this writing. I believe Jennifer Lawrence and James Franco are pretty neck and neck in terms of who has been tweeted at the most. We've gotten some responses from people offering us biopsies, but no one on the level of our big 4 yet. Most of the responses have been very positive, but of course some people are a bit uncomfortable with idea of BiteLabs--we think that's only to be expected when we talk about pushing the boundaries of tech and society.
Again, thank you for your interest in BiteLabs!
Kevin from the BiteLabs Team
* * *
On the subject of seriousness - we’re not sure what the market is for celebrity meat. We’re in startup mode at the moment though - our first goal is to connect with our user-base and find celebrities interested in participating. BiteLabs is 100% serious in prompting widespread discussion about bioethics, lab-grown meats, and celebrity culture - this is very important to us. Making celebrity meat a reality from there will all depend on our ability to build a user-base.
We also think that prompting the cultural discussion around lab-grown meats and popular culture will acclimate people to the field. We're treating it as a cultural precursor for when our product eventually hits production.
The product is indeed salami. Each salami will have roughly 30% celebrity meat and 40% lab-grown animal meats (we're currently looking into ostrich and venison but it pork and beef are more popular in our early research). The rest will consist of fats and spices. This break-down comes from consultation with expert food designers and chefs.
Our process is very similar to existing methodologies used to make the Google Burger, just tailored to human muscle instead of cow. For more information, check out the ‘process-learn more’ section of our website.
It would be amazing to have lab meat in major retail outlets! Our early plans revolve around web distribution at the moment though.
If we receive major interest, we’ll talk to investors, but we also think crowdfunding celebrity meat via Kickstarter might be a way for us to bootstrap.
We have reasons to remain anonymous at the moment due to the controversial nature of our product. We’re a very small team right now (less than 5).
* * *
In terms of hard info, we are a recently formed startup that is trying to get off the ground to provoke a dialogue around what we see as an emerging market space. And while we are working full time on this, we don't want to misrepresent ourself as an established company that is prepared to bring a product to market.
We still feel like its too early to share anything personal. We understand that this generates a certain degree of skepticism and we're okay with that being expressed. Our primary goal right now is to create a public dialogue about around the potential for commercially available lab-grown meat.