What's Your Problem?

How to poison your guests, and other advice

I’m a vegan, which poses no problems except when I’m with my carnivorous family. I don’t expect them to change the way they eat, but it is difficult to share meals both at home (it’s insulting to them if I cook for myself, but they insist on buttering the vegetables) and out (“What’s vegan?”). My mother gets annoyed that I don’t partake in traditional activities like making s’mores. I’ve tried cooking for my parents, but they don’t like anything I make and resent my “preaching” to my siblings. How do I meld these two lifestyles?

Beth Smith, Dallas, Texas

Dear Beth,

First, nobody likes a hectoring vegan. Unassuming vegans are fine. Your parents undoubtedly love you, but don’t test the proposition. They already accept your dissidence, and this is what counts. So, none of that vegan­ish whinging—you know, the “Oh, God, put away the cottage cheese before the Auschwitz-like cruelty of modern dairy farming makes me throw up in disgust” sort of whinging. Bring food home with you, if you must, and live by example, not rhetoric. You’ll gain more converts that way. Another way to gain converts would be to introduce your family to vegan marshmallows, which would let bloom a renewed spirit of togetherness on your family s’mores-making nights. And I happen to know a great recipe for Mexican s’mores, or “s’macos,” so you can get started: you’ll need one package of tortillas, a bag of carob chips, one bag of vegan marshmallows, and a jar of peanut butter. Spread the peanut butter on the tortillas, then add in the carob chips and marshmallows. Roll up the tortillas, wrap them in foil, and stick them in the fire for three or four minutes. Delicious.

What damage can the sun do to the naked skin of women? Why are men more resistant to this radiation?

Mamoun Ello, Aleppo, Syria

Dear Mamoun,

I got a terrible sunburn in Damascus once, and because I did not know the Arabic word for calamine, I treated my burn with a substance that I now believe was hummus. Which brings me to a point about male ignorance: it is a myth that women burn more easily than men—in fact, studies have shown that the opposite is true; men burn more frequently because they are more negligent about applying sunscreen. A sunscreen that will leave both male and female skin undamaged is the very French La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Lait, SPF 50. It contains ecamsule, which is very effective against short UVA rays.

We recently hosted a brunch for a friend, who kindly brought a strawberry shortcake. But as I put the cake out on the table, I noticed mold nestled between the strawberries and the cake. The conundrum: Point out the mold, at risk of humiliating the guest of honor? Or say nothing, and risk poisoning everyone?

Joy Pueschel, Chevy Chase, Md.

Dear Joy,

You should not poison your guests, unless this is your actual goal, in which case I would suggest a truly malevolent mold like aflatoxin. Whether or not murder is the goal, it is unacceptable to humiliate your guest by noting the parlous state of the strawberry shortcake. Might I suggest getting a dog? A dog would have served you quite usefully in this moment. Imagine the shortcake positioned at the edge of a counter; a quick swipe of an overenthusiastic dog’s tail would solve your problem. And no harm comes to the dog because dogs are unembarrassable. Have you ever tried to embarrass a dog?

I am a gay man serving in the U.S. Army. I often see Joshua Green of The Atlantic as a commentator on various news broadcasts. Josh is really adorable (and smart, too). I especially like his long eyelashes. How can I get a date with him?

Captain Mark, address withheld

Dear Captain Mark,

I’m sorry to report that although my colleague Joshua Green does indeed have long eyelashes, he is not, in fact, gay. Furthermore, our mutual colleague Andrew Sullivan, who is quite gay, informs me that if Joshua, who is in his mid-30s, is not gay by now, he probably never will be. But if you’re to have any chance at all, may I suggest leaking him documents from the ill-starred Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, or perhaps copies of Barack Obama’s secret BlackBerry messages? He might go for that.

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