“Wow, I’m the only one here without a tote bag,” a worried voice could be heard murmuring as the crowd around an otherwise unremarkable corner of Bushwick’s Fermi Playground began to grow, and perhaps thicken, like a stew that had been cooking for months. For the past few months, in fact, the small park across the street of what used to be Archie’s had gained some new distinction as the distribution ground for what Annie Rauwerda has called “a perpetual stew,” which the minor TikTok influencer and writer has been cooking in her apartment for, by this point, at least 60 days.
Now, she told the assembled hundred or so people, it would be over.
“So, I finally unplugged the crockpot today but the stew will live on in our hearts,” she announced at the beginning of a brief eulogy for what a writer at the New York Times once called “a full commitment to the bit.” As it happened, her efforts to cook a stew publicly, occasionally using ingredients donated by random people, had received ample media attention, from the Times to the New York Post to Canada’s CBC to a trend piece from the digital arm of the Today show.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Rauwerda preferred to reference the glowing write-up in New York magazine’s food vertical, which likened her ambition to that of the publicly-edited website Wikipedia, where Rauwerda had developed her initial following by stringing together content out of the site’s more obscure pages. “Rauwerda is not a stew-maker by trade, but she has taken on the project of organizing weekly stew meet-ups for the next few months — or as long as people keep showing up,” read the magazine, which had sent a reporter to attend the second one of these and who had optimistically reported to readers: “Anyone is welcome at Annie Rauwerda’s parties.”
One stew later, Rauwerda had decided she was done.
“I’m so fucking sick of stew,” she told the crowd, before reading some of her observations from her summer of publicly making stew, a total of six times. As hard as it was to tell what the point of that was, Rauwerda tried to appear equally flummoxed. (A previous version of this story reported on three stews, but Rauwerda responded with a detailed log of six stew meets and a total of nine “if you count the two that happened in my apartment.”)
“You wanna know what the media loves? Hooverville whimsy. Who knew?,” she told them, before declaring: “The stew has reached newsstands across America.”
Later, at a loss to say anything else, she decided “I have made at least one friend.”
To mark the occasion, like any Brooklyn indie band or brand, her and her boyfriend had started selling merch. Tote bags that depicted the Wikipedia page for “perpetual stew,” went for $20 and green baseball caps that read: “City of Stew York Parks & Perpetuation” that went for $25. The caps proved the most popular.
”The proceeds will go toward paying for my power and, like, after that local mutual aid groups,” she promised.
Responses among those gathered were mixed.
Some had waited in line for their paper bowl of the semi-collectively cooked stew: flavoring and ingredients unknown, though assuredly vegetarian. (contributors for the last two events were told not to bring meat.) Others were unsure of that kind of commitment and a second cast iron pot was established to distribute the soup in small cups for those on the fence. Many just took pictures. A broadcaster for an Italian production company had brought the largest camera and he could be seen trying to find the right background in order to be filmed eating it.
“It wasn’t one flavor or anything else,” one reviewer who had braved a bowl of the stuff told me. Some had brought further ingredients for the stew and were disappointed to find out that the entire bit was now over and Rauwerda no longer had any use for them. A sad, balding man named Sean or Micheal could be seen quietly putting an enormous bag of sliced peppers back into his tote bag.
Most of those who appeared on the stew’s last Sunday were local newcomers, who had read blog posts about the event on Gothamist. They were surprised to discover that it was already over.
One told me that they appreciated the brief experience because she didn’t “have the kitchen space for this.” Another said that it reminded her of her youth scooping spoonfuls of her mother’s sinigang, a popular savory Filipino stew. These days, she made it from packets herself. She told me that Rauwerda’s commitment to using the money to pay her bills had made the blonde, aspiring influencer a “relatable queen.”
In a way, these earnest obsersations seemed to jar with the characterization from the Times, where a writer had speculated about “complaints on social media that the community stew is the kind of spectacle that could thrive only in a neighborhood like Bushwick, which has become synonymous with gentrification.”
“It seems like kind of a dumb idea and it’s hard to account for why it’s popular,” an editorial assistant who had made the trek from Ridgewood told me. “I guess if you’re hot, people will just follow you around as you do just about anything.”
Images taken by Andrew Karpan.
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