This is a loaded question, I know. Today's post is not meant to be the final voice in the debate between vegans and omnivores, but to ask us all to simply think about it. This week, the New York Times posed this question to its readers and solicited responses to be vetted by a panel of experts. By Wednesday afternoon when I started writing this post, over 800 people had left comments.

I don't believe it's unethical to eat meat, but most of the meat being produced in this country is not actually raised ethically. The United States has an unhealthy relationship with animal products. Our culture of factory farms and over consumption is not how the earth was intended to be used, and it's irresponsible of us to eat products that come from these places. I've made my own choices based on this philosophy, including only eating animal products I can trace to sustainable producers. Lowering my meat intake means that most of my diet is vegetarian, and sometimes my meals are vegan. Instead of subscribing to one label, I prefer to follow a lifestyle of mostly plant-based eating, with small amounts of animal protein.

One of the reasons I started The Giving Table is to have discussions just like this. Before you can help others, you must know where you stand on the important issues because how you eat affects how you cook, give, and participate in your community. We're not going to solve all the problems today, but what we can do is try to answer the question for ourselves, our families, and help ensure that these issues stay in the forefront of the American psyche. There is a lot to consider. Often just raising the topic of animal ethics invites more questions than answers. If you do not believe eating meat is ethical, what do you feed your pets? Is it ethical to raise your children to be vegan without giving them the choice? Is there an ethical way to raise and consume meat? Is it better to give up meat for health or ethical reasons? Does it matter? Do meat-substitute products (often made with soy and wheat-based ingredients) perpetuate our reliance on processed food? You see, questions abound.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to browse the comments to see what answers people have offered. Here are a couple of the responses that resonated with me:

Mary in Boston wrote that she spent 10 days at aBuddhist retreat in Thailand where they ate two vegan meals a day. Although she is not vegan, "What I liked about the experience was the concept of mindfulness, of deliberate concentration and thankfulness for what I was eating... I think it is good to come to turns with the fact that a living being died to feed you. And to give thanks for that meal, and appreciate the animal sacrifice. It would certainly make us more mindful of our choices."

David in New York wrote: "This is sort of like asking someone to justify atheism in a way that will convince a panel of evangelical Christians. Thanks, but no thanks. Why should any meat eater have to come up with an argument that convinces both Peter Singer, whose views are part of an extremely complicated set of beliefs about "speciesism,'" and Jonathan Safran Foer, who admits he has gone back and forth? Many vegetarians feel that their choice is ethics-based--and that therefore, anyone who has not made that choice has either been improperly informed or simply prefers to make an unethical choice. As a meat eater, I am not out to convert anyone who doesn't eat meat to my way of life. But there is also an ethical case to be made for tolerance of difference, of holding a set of beliefs without feeling punitive about those who do not."