Physicians Committee President Neal Barnard, M.D., and Equinox Chef Todd Gray Bring Veggie Burger Smackdown to Capitol Hill on July 22

The Physicians Committee
NEWS RELEASE July 22, 2015
Physicians Committee President Neal Barnard, M.D., and Equinox Chef Todd Gray Bring Veggie Burger Smackdown to Capitol Hill on July 22
Veggie Burger Contest Offers Alternative to American Meat Institute’s Annual Hot Dog Lunch

WASHINGTON—The nonprofit Physicians Committee will team up with the bipartisan Vegetarian Caucus to host the inaugural Congressional Veggie Burger Smackdown on Wednesday, July 22, for Hill staffers looking for a healthful alternative to the North American Meat Institute’s Annual Hot Dog Lunch.

Highly acclaimed chef Todd Gray, owner of Equinox restaurant, will create four brand-new sauces for his vegan FLOTUS burger, a mix of mushrooms, black beans, and quinoa, to honor state-friendly fruit and vegetables of four vegetarian members of Congress: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.).
Members of Congress and their staff will have the opportunity to sample the burgers and vote on their favorite sauce, which will be announced at the end of the event:
WHAT: Congressional Veggie Burger Smackdown, a veggie burger tasting contest for members of Congress and their staff. The first 100 attendees will receive four FLOTUS sliders—one with each sauce—and vote on their favorite state-inspired topping. The winning state earns nutrition education materials for its public K-12 students.


WHEN: 1 to 2 p.m., Wednesday, July 22.

WHERE: Rayburn House Office Building, Room B-338

WHO: D.C. chef and owner of Equinox restaurant Todd Gray, Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, and Physicians Committee president and founder Neal Barnard, M.D.

HOW: Chef Todd Gray will prepare a slow-cooked tomato sauce to honor Sen. Cory Booker, roasted corn and sweet pepper salsa for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, caramelized black pepper pineapple for Rep. Gabbard, and a savory blend of shredded carrot and orange jam for Rep. Ted Deutch.

WHY: The popularity of plant-based diets are at an all-time high, thanks to stars like Beyoncé and former president Bill Clinton, who have dramatically improved their health by reaching for vegetarian fare. The nonprofit Physicians Committee would like to extend this trend, honoring members of Congress who promote plant-based eating patterns, and by bringing renowned chef Todd Gray in to show Hill staffers how to make healthful foods taste delicious, too.

“I’m excited to find out which member of Congress’ veggie burger gets the most votes in the Smackdown,” says chef Todd Gray, owner of Equinox restaurant. “But no matter who wins, they are all good sports for helping us show America that plant-based diets are not only good for you—they are great tasting.”
The event, scheduled on the same day as the North American Meat Institute’s Annual Hot Dog Lunch for Congress, will also educate attendees about the dangers of hot dogs and other processed meats.
Studies show that just one serving of processed meat—hot dogs, bacon, sausage—may increase colorectal cancer by 21 percent. Processed meats are also linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
A panel of America’s top nutrition experts recently warned against processed meat products and encouraged the U.S. government to exclude them from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The panel also found that 89 percent of Americans fall short on daily vegetable consumption.
“I think both sides of the aisle can agree that fruits and veggies should replace disease-causing hot dogs on Capitol Hill and in the American diet,” says Neal Barnard, M.D., Physicians Committee president. “Our First Annual Congressional Veggie Burger Bash offers a fun, healthful, and long-awaited alternative to the North American Meat Institute’s Annual Hot Dog Lunch.”
Dr. Barnard will send copies of Vegetabibbles to K-5 students at the winning Congressional representative's local school district.
"It's never too early or too late to plant the seed about foods that have the power to transform your health, and in many cases, transform your life," notes Dr. Barnard.


Neal Barnard, M.D. is president and founder of the Physicians Committee and an adjunct professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Dr. Barnard is the author of groundbreaking NIH-funded research that shows a low-fat vegan diet dramatically stabilizes blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, boosts metabolism, and improves kidney function. He is a regular speaker at college campuses, TEDx Talks, the author of 70 published clinical research studies, 15 books, including two New York Times bestsellers, and three PBS specials about diet and health. Follow Dr. Barnard @DrNealBarnard.

The Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association is a bipartisan group for congressional staffers founded in 2013 to increase vegetarian dining options on Capitol Hill and to highlight events and opportunities around Washington, D.C. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) co-sponsor the committee, which has hosted cooking demonstrations, lectures, and off-Hill dining events. CVSA president and founding member Adam Sarvana, communications director for the House Natural Resources Committee Democrats, remains active in organizing events and promoting vegetarian options in the House and Senate cafeterias. E-mail him at to join the group’s free e-mail list.

Equinox chef co-owners Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray are well known for creating artisanal plant-based meals and for serving a delicious vegan brunch, so it's only fitting that they host a monthly Vegan Smackdown Challenge. Award-winning chef Gray invites select chefs from Washington and across the country to compete in the challenge by providing him with one of their signature meaty dishes. Using his expert culinary skills, creativity, and an abundance of locally sourced ingredients, Chef Gray creates  vegan versions of their signature recipes. Last April, the challenge resulted in the FLOTUS burger, a plant-based version of Spike Mendelsohn's Obama burger, which will be served at the July 22 event. Learn more about Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray at

Members of Congress:

Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is the first member of Congress to finish an Ironman, so it's no surprise that she uses plant-based foods to help propel her athletic performance and hard-won congressional pursuits. Follow Rep. Kyrsten Sinema at @RepSinema.

Florida Rep. Ted Deutch relies on a vegan diet to ensure optimal energy for 16-hour workdays. Rep. Deutch is now 25 pounds lighter, his energy is up, and he even has a Thai-infused tempeh dish named after him at the National Democratic Press Club. Follow Rep. Deutch at @RepTedDeutch.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has followed a vegetarian diet her entire life and co-chairs the Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association with Rep. Ted Deutch. As an avid surfer and member of the Hawaii Army National Guard, Rep. Gabbard knows firsthand about the link between diet and health, striving to consume plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and water. Follow Rep. Tulsi Gabbard at @ TulsiGabbard.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker publicly adopted a vegan diet in late 2014 after following a vegetarian diet for 20 years. Sen. Booker is as well known for advocating for healthful standards in our nation's federal nutrition programs as he is for sharing his favorite meals on Twitter and Instagram. He often treats his staff to vegan lunches, most recently from Native Foods Café and sweetgreen. Follow Sen. Booker at @CoryBooker.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.