Perpetual Stew Bowl - © 2023 Matthew Spina

Sunday Musings: Community Stews To Fight Hunger?

Back in February, we looked at the ancient and venerable tradition of perpetual stews. That is, one pot of broth into which folks keep tossing fresh ingredients. Could this approach help food banks and communities make sure everyone is fed?

Perpetual Stew Club - © 2023 PS ClubThe Perpetual Stew Club of Annie Ruawerda

The latest news on perpetual stews comes form New York City where community activist Annie Rauwerda is helping to reintroduce the concept as a way of bringing people together. One of my grandmothers used the technique to save money, banish food waste, and feed a large family during hard times…

A few weeks ago, Rauwerda started the Perpetual Stew Club. Her stew pot is still going strong more than a month later, and shows no signs of either fizzling out or crashing.

A PS refresher

Wikipedia sums up the Perpetual Stew concept succinctly:

“A perpetual stew […] is a pot into which whatever foodstuffs one can find is placed and cooked. The pot is never or rarely emptied all the way, and ingredients and liquid are replenished as necessary. Such foods can continue cooking for decades or longer, if properly maintained. The concept is often a common element in descriptions as being flavorful due to the manner in which the ingredients blend together.”

How perpetual is ‘perpetual soup’?

Wikipedia again provides some pretty spectacular examples:

  • A batch of pot-au-feu was claimed by one writer to be maintained as a perpetual stew in Perpignan France, from the 15th century until World War II, when it ran out of ingredients to keep the stew going due to the German occupation.
  • Wattana Panich restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, has continued to maintain the broth from the same perpetual stew for over 48 years (as of 2023).

45-year perpetual soup - © Wattana PanichWattana Panich perpetual stew: Marking its 48th year…

  • The food industry in Japan still maintains perpetual stews in certain traditional dishes, for instance in ramen and oden: Otafuku, one of the oldest oden restaurants in Japan, has been heating up the same batch of broth every day since 1945.
  • Between August 2014 and April 2015, a New York restaurant served broth from the same perpetual stew for over eight months.

Just the beginning?

So, there’s tremendous potential for a large scale perpetual stew operation to grow out of Rauwerda’s humble start. True, her effort so far encompasses only a jumbo crock pot.

But the tradition calls for much larger batches, especially in restaurant and broader community settings.

The point…

The concept of a perpetual stew appeals to a sufficient number of folks in one small NYC neighbourhood to make it a solid success. Why not encourage food banks and community associations to scale it up?

Sharing the burden of procuring ingredients can definitely reduce participants’ cost of eating. Stews traditionally contain a wide variety of root veggies and other healthy foods. That means everyone eats healthier. Perpetual stews – as my granny knew – help reduce food waste.

What are we waiting for?

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.