Written by: Paul Thompson

Primary Source: Thornapple CSA

This week I learned that science has figured out how to quantify woo. I was sitting around listening to a group of friends talking about some goofy HR instrument for classifying a person’s relative strengths and weaknesses in group interactions. They were saying that only one member of their team had “woo” as a strength. Now here comes a tangent. I was, of course, listening to this conversation, so my first challenge was simply to figure out what these people were saying. I mean one thought was that they were just dropping their L’s, in which case they were just talking about a co-worker who wore a lot of sweaters. (e.g. “She had wool.”) But that thought didn’t parse with the context, which also included other personality measures like “sensitivity” and “analytic ability”. So “wool” was out. But maybe this was an oblique reference to the Steely Dan classic “Dr. Wu”. Are you with me?

For those not with me, the song goes like this:

You walked in 
 And my life began again 
 Just when I'd spent the last piaster 
 I could borrow 
 All night long 
 We would sing that stupid song 
 And every word we sang 
 I knew was true

This might have also let me in for a nice food thing, because there actually is a Dr. Wu who writes on the wondrous benefits of juicing. Juicing itself would make for a nice tangent on a tangent, but denying yourself the opportunity to follow absolutely every tangent is pretty crucial to the Thornapple Blog. So tick that one off for this week.

The Steely Dan lyrics might be pointing to an idea that’s been picked up by a pretty popular Michigan band called Spontaneous Woo. I’ve never heard them (I’m old remember). This line of thinking would have at least gotten me to the right spelling, and maybe even into the ballpark, but spontaneous woo is musician’s jargon for a certain kind of audience reaction that causes the vibe to take off into the aesthetic stratosphere. For my generation, it was usually kicked off when someone in the back of the room would yell “Whippin’ Post” during a momentary lull. I note that it did not matter what band was playing that night, the implication being that any band would be complemented by a request to play a tune written, recorded and played by the Allman Brothers—a band which at their peak was noted for their ability to generate spontaneous woo.

Here we could launch into Gregg Allman’s vegetarian diet, but to stay on the woo trail like a bloodhound I’d better note that sometimes woo is another word for bogosity (itself a term for the quality of being bogus). Here, ‘woo’ is a diminutive of woo-woo, or perhaps just wooo. This is not what the HR crowd has learned to quantify. There’s also a group of physicians and foodies who have created something called a WooFood (or maybe it’s (Woo)Food) blog and certification system that’s pointing you to healthier eating, especially at restaurants. It’s interesting enough for me to provide a link to it, but it’s still not the “woo factor” that I was looking for.

The Internet tells me that there is also a band called Woo Factor, but we finally hit bingo when we get around to the recent book by Rachel Lee Strasberg. I haven’t read it, but the subtitle states pretty clearly what the HR types were after “Have Them Magnetically Attracted to Giving You What You Want”. That’s the quality that you’ve just got to have in a productive group of employees, it seems, and it’s a great advance of science to be able to quantify it.

As for me, I can attest that I was able to get a total stranger named Dorothy to give me what I wanted on a recent trip to a chain restaurant that is almost certainly NOT certified by (Woo) Food. What I wanted was a BigBoy, but I can’t say for sure whether she was magnetically attracted to give it to me or just sent over to take my order by the shift manager.

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Paul Thompson
Paul B. Thompson holds the W. K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. He formerly held positions in philosophy at Texas A&M University and Purdue University. His research has centered on ethical and philosophical questions associated with agriculture and food, and especially concerning the guidance and development of agricultural technoscience.
Paul Thompson

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