Ted Allen wants to keep politics out of the kitchen.
Allen, host of the Food Network's "Chopped," said Friday he was astounded that some political conservatives have criticized first lady Michelle Obama's efforts to encourage healthy eating and exercise by children.
"You're going to fault the first lady for encouraging healthier children, are you kidding me?" he said during the third in a series of Associated Press interviews at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
"She's not up there wearing Halston redecorating the White House," Allen said. "She's wearing H&M and she's encouraging children to eat better and exercise. And that's elitist?"
Allen said it's easy to cast him and other food celebrities as snobs "who are eating foie gras, torturing ducks and then telling people they can't go to McDonald's," he said. "That's not the case. ... We're not talking about this because we're left-wing snobs. We're talking about this because we love food, we love our kids and we think this is a better way to live."
Allen was joined by chef Nate Appleman for a broad discussion about America's sometimes fractured food culture. Both men acknowledged the growing divide between foodies focused on local, organic fare and fast-food fans, but said turning it into a political issue benefits no one.
"It turns something that's so essential to everyone _ food _ into something it doesn't need to be," said Appleman, formerly of San Francisco's A16 restaurant and now of fast food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill. "It's like the difference between regular jeans and designer jeans. They're still denim at the end of the day."
Appleman said the chain of 1,000 restaurants shows that it's possible to deliver convenient, low-cost, high-quality food. "That's going to be the deciding factor," he said. "You can't argue with flavor."
The chain uses local and organic ingredients when practical and meat from animals raised without antibiotics or added hormones.
Both men said the idea of "eating local" _ a popular trend in food _ can be taken too far, however.
"It's about practicality. People can make little changes for the better, for themselves," Appleman said.
Allen said he chooses local products to celebrate them, not just for the sake of buying local.
"I'm not going to stop eating lemons because I live in Brooklyn," Allen said.
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