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I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. There are a million reasons why this is a truly terrible idea. But just for a moment, sit back and indulge that little voice you may hear in the back of your head as it softly whispers, “but what if?” and allow me to make the case for a perpetual stew at Lawrence University.
The concept of perpetual stew is largely linked to medieval times (albeit, likely mistakenly) as a constantly boiling broth into which chefs throw any ingredients they have on hand. The idea is that maintaining boiling temperatures in the stew prevents any bacteria from being able to grow, so it’s always safe to eat. There are also other real advantages to this manner of cooking. For one, it would enormously decrease the waste created by the kitchens, as any good meat, vegetables, or broth could be added to the stew instead of going to waste. Reducing waste is already a major priority for Bon Appetit, and while they currently employ what their website describes as “snout-to-tail and stem-to-root cooking techniques” and make a point to buy produce that lacks the cosmetic appeal we’ve grown accustomed to in an age dominated by GMOs, they could take a step further by truly using every part of their ingredients in the stew. Things like the ends of green onions and fatty sections of beef or chicken that many chefs simply throw away as unusable tend to sort of melt into the stew, contributing their delicious flavor into the broth while working around their would-be unpleasant texture or appearances.
Furthermore, any chef who’s made a soup, sauce or stew and let it cook all day knows the benefits that come with allowing all the flavors in a dish to mingle and bring out the best in each other. Letting it cook all day and all night surely only heightens this effect to a degree rarely experienced by any diner. The stew might shift with the seasons, with the Commons’ seasonal cuisines informing the softer notes of the stew’s flavor, but another real advantage to the stew is that it would offer true consistency in the dining hall. True, the Commons already has offerings that remain the same every day, but things like pizza may come with different toppings each day, and things like chicken are inherently different with each unique filet, while the stew will always provide the same rich flavor and dining experience. Another challenge inherent to buffet-style dining is keeping food as hot as if it were just brought to your table at a restaurant throughout the entirety of a three-hour-long dinner shift; but because the stew constantly boils, Lawrentians can descend the Warch stairs each day knowing that at the bottom, a piping hot, delicious, complete meal option is there for them.
That said, I will admit that there are some potential issues with this proposal. For one, it may be difficult for such a stew to accommodate Lawrentians with dietary restrictions; balancing the reduction of all kinds of would-be waste with meeting the needs of students in search of vegan, halal, etc. options is no small task. It may also pose staffing issues, as someone may be required to watch the stew as it boils all night. Additionally, it’s easy to imagine how such a quirky dish might scare some students regardless of dietary restrictions, and the last thing most students want to eat during the warmer times of year is a warm, brothy soup.
But imagine; you walk into the Commons on a freezing cold day, and in the center of the room a roaring flame crackles underneath a massive cauldron, stirred by a student worker with what looks like the oar of a small boat. Lawrence makes national news as “Perpetual Stew University,” and the school cuts tuition in half because of the profits made by packaging up and selling portions of the stew across the world to nostalgic alumni hoping for one more taste of their formative years. Could you look someone in the eye and honestly tell them you wouldn’t be even a bit curious about how it would taste? I know I couldn’t.