MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver called Sarah Palin a "Froot Loop" for criticizing the Obama administration's healthy eating initiatives, and said getting healthy foods to kids is a civil rights issue.
The U.S. is in a "really dark moment" when it comes to children's health and needs to make it a priority, said Oliver, who tried to transform the diets of a West Virginia town with his 2010 ABC show "Jamie's Food Revolution" and is filming a new version in Los Angeles.
Improving what children eat at school alone can have a far-reaching, positive effect on their habits and health as adults, Oliver said Saturday during an Associated Press interview at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
He said he doesn't have much faith that government will lead the way, but said the Obama administration is on the right track.
Palin, in contrast, "clearly on this issue is a Froot Loop," he said.
The president recently signed a bill that increases the federal reimbursement for free school lunches and expands the government's nutrition requirements for the free and reduced meals it subsidizes to cover all foods sold during school hours.
Some school groups argue it will be hard for already-stretched schools to pay for the new requirements, and Palin and other conservatives have argued that telling children what to eat is a case of government meddling, and that parents should decide what their children eat.
But Oliver, who launched his career in England as "The Naked Chef," countered that he's heard from pediatricians and dentists who feel some parents are edging toward child abuse by not feeding them healthy food. And he argued that the obesity epidemic is hampering the American spirit of problem-solving and ingenuity.
"From my view of the health situation we're in at the moment, it really isn't allowing Americans to be Americans," he said.
But, he predicted that once a majority of the public takes to his ideas, things will change quickly.
"Americans, when you get them on something, will shift faster than anyone else," he said. "I think America's going to react very strongly to what I've filmed in the last two months."
J.M. Hirsch is food editor of The Associated Press. To see all of the videos from AP's coverage of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, go to: http://bit.ly/f4lFT6