Annie Rauwerda began hosting stew parties earlier this summer. Photo: Kenyon Anderson
The sun is just beginning to set on a warm summer evening in Bushwick, and Fermi Playground is alive with the sounds of children, the occasional ice-cream truck, and dozens of people waiting for some stew. The flyers posted around the neighborhood don’t offer much by way of explanation — “Join a bunch of strangers for stew” — but the mystery (and the promise of free food) has proved alluring. The one requirement, per the invitation, is that each person contribute an ingredient to the pot, so, tonight, those in search of stew come bearing loose produce or bags of legumes. “Is this the stew thing?” asks one timid man standing by the monkey bars, potato in hand. “This is the stew thing!” says a beaming Annie Rauwerda, the woman behind the pot.
The stew thing is Perpetual Stew: a slow cooker that is endlessly replenished, kept over heat, and offered to anybody who wants some. 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. In the park, she keeps the stew hooked to a generator, gradually adding in ingredients from a communal pile. Over the course of the past month, the Crock-Pot has undergone various phases, starting off as a humble mix of vegetable stock, potatoes, leeks, and spices. By the time I tried some, it’s mostly cumin-y water, slightly raw onions, and beans. But, as Rauwerda eventually tells me, “It’s not really about the stew.”
Most of the people in attendance know Rauwerda as the creator behind Depths of Wikipedia, a Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok account where she surfaces obscure and absurd Wikipedia entries, such as umarell, the Bolognese word for retired Italian men who spend their time gazing at construction sites, and Long Boi, a “renowned, exceptionally tall male duck.” She started the account during the early days of the pandemic when she was a sophomore studying neuroscience at the University of Michigan. “I remember writing a journal entry when the account reached a few hundred followers,” she tells me. “I was like, ‘Who knows! Maybe it’ll reach 10k!’” Today, the Twitter account boasts nearly 800,000 followers, while the Instagram account holds over a million.
Rauwerda, it turns out, did not become a neuroscientist. She spent much of the last year on tour for Depths of Wikipedia, hosting what she describes as variety shows in which she’d interview “random local legends,” those with especially good Wikipedia pages, like a guy from Philadelphia who ate an entire rotisserie chicken every day for 40 days. Thousands of fans turned up for the shows, selling out venues in New York, Seattle, Toronto, and San Francisco to name a few. “I definitely thought that it would reach a niche,” she says. “I guess I just didn’t realize that it would be broadly appealing to so many people.”
The account likely would not be so broadly appealing if not for Rauwerda’s comic sensibility — treating something trivial with methodical care and thought, to the point where it is no longer clear whether there’s a joke at all. She began posting on TikTok in 2021, initially about Wikipedia, but lately more often about random vectors of interest. In one video viewed over 3 million times, she delivers a singsongy monologue about fiber-optic internet cables.
She is driven, in part, by an obsessive devotion to facts — she auditioned for Jeopardy! as a teenager — and an attraction to eccentric pockets of community. “I think that a lot of Wikipedia contributors are very mission driven,” she says. “It’s a lot of people that will go to extreme lengths to track down information, and they wouldn’t be doing that if it were just to help someone else profit.”
Like Depths of Wikipedia, Perpetual Stew just sort of happened: “She shot up wide awake at, like, three in the morning and said, ‘David, I’ve seen it. Fermi Playground, my Crock-Pot. I will make a stew, and people will come and eat it,” says David Shayne, Rauwerda’s boyfriend.
After hosting the first stew night, Rauwerda posted a TikTok featuring all of the attendees and their ingredients of choice. Thousands of commenters wrote in to voice approval of some ingredients and harsh disapproval of others (as with the Ph.D. candidate who arrived with a single clove of garlic). “The next day, someone stopped Annie in the grocery store and said, ‘Are you the stew girl?’” Shayne recalls. “She eventually sussed out that this person had never even heard of Depths of Wikipedia. She’s, like, pivoting from a Wikipedia influencer to a stew influencer.”
By the second stew night, which is when I’ve come to meet Rauwerda, word has already spread and fans are prepared (the Ph.D. candidate brought an entire head of garlic this time). “There are some people who met here and then they see each other again and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you’re here,’” says Hajin Yoo, a friend of Rauwerda’s.
Ingredients waiting to be added. Photo: Kenyon Anderson
The crowd is a mix of other internet denizens — Neal Agarwal, creator of the disarmingly wholesome game site neal.fun, and Peter McIndoe, Rauwerda’s roommate and the mind behind the faux-conspiracy account Birds Aren’t Real — and people who simply saw one of Rauwerda’s flyers. Two women holding handmade cardboard signs that read “Stew World Order” and “Stew or Die” tell me they were completely unfamiliar with Rauwerda and Depths of Wikipedia and are solely here for “stew vibes.”
Throughout the night, various people ask Rauwerda what inspired Perpetual Stew, and she gives varied answers (I’ve always wanted to do it … It seemed like the right time … People love stew), but she tells me the project is also, in part, a way to give herself a break from writing her first book, a cultural history of Wikipedia. “It’s possible that I wouldn’t have done this if I weren’t procrastinating on writing,” she admits. “I love the internet, and I have a great time there, but I also think it’s important to have enough stuff like this where I’m, like, actually meeting people and making friends.”
There is an obvious parallel between Perpetual Stew and Wikipedia: a group of people coming together for a shared project made possible through their individual contributions and feedback, whether that’s a bulb of garlic or editing out the 90,000 times someone has erroneously used comprised of in a Wiki entry.
“I love Wikipedia and all, but I do get a little sick of it,” Rauwerda says. “This is just really fun ’cause it’s a reminder that, like, I don’t have to be the Wikipedia girl all the time. I can take a break and be the stew girl.”
A stew fan at this week’s party. Photo: Kenyon Anderson