What's Your Problem?

Capitalize on your anti-materialism, and other advice

As a devoted subscriber to The Atlantic, I notice that your magazine contains many advertisements for products like luxury cars, expensive liquors, and so on. What would your early contributors, including the renowned anti-materialist Ralph Waldo Emerson, have said about this devotion to shallow material obsessions?

E.V., Boston, Mass.

Dear E.V.,

An excellent question, but one with a more complicated answer than you might like to hear. It is true that Ralph Waldo Emerson, among other early Atlantic editors, aligned himself against what we today might call the forces of turbocharged capitalism. But his views on commerce were more nuanced than is generally understood. For instance, he said in his 1844 lecture “The Young American”: “The philosopher and lover of man have much harm to say of trade; but the historian will see that trade was the principle of Liberty; that trade planted America and destroyed Feudalism; that it makes peace and keeps peace, and it will abolish slavery.” As is well known, Emerson lived this philosophy by serving, early in his career, as a spokesman for Jägermeister, a position he took to help fund the publication of his 1837 oration before the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Emerson was not the only early Atlantic contributor to leverage literary renown for commercial gain. I’m thinking, of course, of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s distinguished career as a Manolo Blahnik shoe model, and Julia Ward Howe’s jingle-writing for Ernest and Julio Gallo. Howe’s catchy antebellum number, “Trampling Out the Vintage Where the Grapes of Wrath Are Stored,” was especially popular with the Union soldiery.

I enjoy eating cheese, but I also would like to live a long life, and I’m worried, as is my doctor, about my cholesterol. Can I counteract the cholesterol in cheese by upping the dosage of Lipitor I take? How much Lipitor would I have to take to balance the effects of a wedge of Manchego? My doctor won’t answer this question, because he does not like cheese and he does not like the question.

T.G., Charlotte, N.C.

Dear T.G.,

According to Dr. Nathan Wong, a cardiology professor at the University of California at Irvine, the answer depends on a number of variables: your overall diet; the frequency of cheese consumption; what else you are eating with the cheese; how you define wedge; and how well you metabolize fat. But Dr. Wong suggested that 10 mg of Lipitor per day would probably lower your LDL cholesterol more than the cheese would increase it. Dr. Roger Newton, a nutritional biochemist and one of the inventors of Lipitor, also said that there are too many variables to give an accurate answer, but he suggested eating the cheese “with a glass of red wine and high-fiber crackers” to counteract the cholesterol. He suggested, in particular, a nice Rioja. Two general observations: One, you should find another doctor—one who will discuss cheese, and other sensitive topics, with you. Two, the scientist who invents Lipitor-infused bacon will no doubt win a Nobel Peace Prize.

We recently bought a weekend home, and our neighbors asked if they could hunt on our 12 acres. I am an animal-rights advocate, and I politely said no. They argued that it was an issue of fairness to the deer: without hunters, overpopulation would drive the deer to starvation. I am researching methods of birth control for wild animals, and I’m wondering if you could help. I’d like to tell them that there are ways to control the deer population besides killing.

P.D., Ann Arbor, Mich.

Dear P.D.,

I was going to suggest that you place brightly colored bowls of condoms in the woods, but then I realized that the deer might have difficulty opening those little packages, because they lack opposable thumbs. There are complicated ways to introduce birth-control vaccines into wild-animal populations. But I suggest you wait a while before bringing this up with your neighbors. No one enjoys being lectured by outsiders, especially about a well-loved tradition such as hunting. Imagine if your rural neighbors moved to the city and asked you to stop eating Kashi products. How would you feel then?