What Is ‘Perpetual Stew,’ And Why Is The Internet Obsessed With This Creator’s Viral Take On It?

@depthsofwikipedia/TikTok, Anya Lis/Shutterstock, Cat_arch_angel/Shutterstock, Remix by Caterina Cox

A content creator in Brooklyn stumbled upon an unexpectedly viral phenomenon when she invited friends over to her apartment in June to contribute ingredients to a stew—one that she still hasn’t stopped cooking, over 37 days later.

People across the internet have become fascinated with Annie Rauwerda’s “perpetual stew,” ever since she first announced her intent to keep the pot going for “at least a week” on TikTok.

“I’ve been telling everyone I know ‘come over, bring an ingredient, add it to the pot,’” she said, sharing a Wikipedia entry describing perpetual stew as “a pot into which whatever foodstuffs one can find is placed and cooked.” This becomes a stew that quite literally never ends, with the ingredients being refreshed as it is eaten, without it being allowed to turn up empty in the process.

“I’ve always wanted to do it,” she added. “This is the first day of the rest of my life.”

Rauwerda’s excitement caught on—a mere week of cooking and a visit from a couple of friends has since ballooned into a neighborhood event that she estimated has been attended by up to 200 people at a time.

Both friends and strangers have been RSVPing for the “stew-a-polooza” as Rauwerda posts each date and location to the website she created for interested parties to keep tabs on the forever soup phenomenon. She asks everyone to bring an ingredient of their choice that isn’t meat, and notes that she vets each item that goes into the pot.

Rauwerda also maintains a daily log of stew happenings and general musings, where she calls for a “STEW WORLD ORDER,” gets excited about being recognized as “Stew Girl” at the grocery store, and pleads with anyone named Stu or Stew to come by, as they will deemed the night’s guest of honor.

“June 30, 2023: a few people have brought turnips and radishes, both vegetables I’m afraid of,” reads one entry. “Well, today I decided to face my fears. And believe it or not, they’re not that bad.”

The perpetual stew going viral—particularly in the middle of summer—might seem unexpected, but Rauwerda is no stranger to creating viral content.

Early in the pandemic, she created an Instagram account dedicated to curating bizarre Wikipedia entries that she found interesting. And it turned out there was a hunger for the content she shared at @depthsofwiki similar to how there’s been a hunger for perpetual stew, allowing her to rack up over 1.2 million followers thanks to posts about everything from a platypus named Penelope who faked a pregnancy to a series of karaoke killings in the Philippines related to the song “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

In fact, the Wikipedia entry referenced by Rauwerda in the video announcing the commencement of her own concoction likely falls under the same strange umbrella of her other entries, making the fact that her take on it has gone viral in and of itself delightful. 

The entry notes that the idea of a never ending stew is speculated to have been around for centuries, and calls out one astonishing claim that there was one particular perpetual stew that ran from the 15th century until World War II.

Even in modern times, possibly one of the oldest known perpetual stews referenced by the Wikipedia page claims to have been around since 1945, which would make it almost 80 years old. Another had allegedly been simmering in Bangkok for 45 years when NPR reported on it in 2019.

The idea of even an over 40-year-old soup might sound questionable, but with the proper care, they can apparently be not only perfectly safe, but phenomenally flavorful. As Rauwerda notes on the website, the stew is “cooking at a boiling temp at all times,” ingredients are cycled out as it’s consumed, and there’s no meat allowed in her particular stew, which might have made things more complicated.

“Is the stew actually good? completely depends on the day,” she admits.

While the stew may have gone viral for its novelty, there’s something more to the in-person events that internet fame can’t truly capture. Or perhaps it’s simply because the sense of community this unlikely stew seems to be creating in person has no way of translating to social media that it’s so intriguing to those watching from a distance.

“It’s been really beautiful to be here and be surrounded by people who love my name,” a man at the event named Stu—the event’s first guest of honor—shared with Rauwerda’s TikTok followers.

“Actually so f—ked up over the fact that I’m missing perpetual stew night in Bushwick tonight,” @wisepissmage wrote on Twitter, while @notmaryjpg asked if anyone was interested in starting something similar up in Boston.

An article dedicated to Rauwerda’s perpetual stew on Delish accurately frames it as “the anti-aesthetic summer trend,” the polar opposite of the usual eye-catching foodie fads shared and replicated across social media. But as the content creators starting those trends generally do so in between snaps of swanky soirées and invite-only influencer experiences, the perpetual stew serving as the antithesis to that exclusivity—welcoming anyone and everyone to come be a part of this weird, random thing—feels just as significant to note.

Of course, it didn’t start that way. It started as a little get-together in a Wikipedia enthusiast’s apartment, gradually evolving into something refreshingly unexpected. And for however long it lasts, it will be fascinating to see what this perpetual stew trend might evolve into next, with the right ingredients.

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