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The stranger wore a deadpan expression as he strolled into Harrison's popular Townhouse Cafe a while back. It became clear, as he glanced at diners enjoying their breakfasts, that he had something specific on his mind. It wasn't grits or pancakes.

Making a beeline to the counter and good-natured restaurant owner Mark Garner, he flipped opened his wallet and flashed an impressive badge. Mark couldn't tell whether the stranger sported a .38.

"Who this? The FBI, IRS, state police?" Garner's mind raced.

It was perhaps even worse for cafe owners who serve their daily fare sunnyside-up. This hard-boiled enforcer was a state egg inspector, hopefully not there to make a citizen's arrest. Mark didn't believe he had a problem, certainly not with the delicious eggs he'd been serving.

"I'd been buying and serving fresh eggs from area farmers for quite a while," Mark clucked (sorry, lots more coming). "We were the only ones doing that and I thought everything was OK. I'd even called the state Department of Health before beginning to make sure that was OK. They'd told me it was just fine with them to serve locally grown eggs."

We all know ignorance of the law is no excuse for violating it. Now Mark quickly found himself feeling awkwardly cooped up and scratching for casual conversation.

But this diligent eggspector (I like that better) hadn't strutted in simply to wing it. He immediately asked to see all the eggs kept in the kitchen fridge. When the door swung open, the lawman knew he'd caught himself another fox in the henhouse, oops, Townhouse. "There's a definite problem with your local eggs," Mark said the man told him. "None of these are graded. They are not the same size or grade, which means you are serving ungraded eggs and those trusting customers out there don't know that!"

Cackling under his breath, the eggforcer pointed to a couple having breakfast. "I'm here to protect the consumer. People like them who trust they're getting a fair shake when they buy breakfast in here," he told Mark.

He pecked on the counter for emphasis, then aimed his forefinger to people at another table also peacefully enjoying their breakfast. "What if those people are getting grade A jumbo eggs while others are getting some smaller grade? That wouldn't be right or fair now, would it?"

"But, but, they all say they like our fresh eggs," Mark stammered. At further loss for words, he scrambled for deeper explanations rather than cracking under the pressure of the moment. "Well, sir, I'd never really thought of it that way before. No one ever complains about our eggs, or getting enough. If they would have, I'd gladly make things right. They always seem happy and satisfied, especially since these eggs come from local farms."

The plucky Garner felt a tad henpecked, yet wasn't that worried, since it was clear these eggs had been purchased, never poached, for a fair price.

The inspector, on the other hand, remained fit to be fried. "This is not acceptable, just won't do at all," he said. "It's not within the regulations. You're going to have to start serving only graded eggs. It's the law."

Garner wondered whether they could reach a compromise whereby he might place a disclaimer at the bottom of his menus to explain that their fresh eggs are not graded and will naturally vary in size. That way, customers could make an informed choice before ordering. After all, it's not as if the sky was falling.

Nope, that wouldn't do either, said the inspector who clearly remained ruffled. "The law says they must be graded and marked properly!" The egg law is not mocked.

This eggspector was among 13 fellow badge carriers working for the state's Livestock and Poultry Division of the Department of Agriculture. And he was right about the law. The Arkansas Egg Marketing Act 220 of 1969 (since amended three times) makes it a misdemeanor for a first violation, costing the offender between $25 and $100, and climbs higher with each subsequent conviction. Garner said he was left with a verbal warning this time.

Thus it came to pass that, because of the crackdown, Garner said he regrettably informed disappointed local suppliers that he could no longer purchase eggs. But today, thanks to a vigilant government inspector carrying a badge and backed by the full legal authority of our Egg Act, customers by the dozen at the Townhouse can feel warm and protected knowing all the standard eggs served in omelets or fried-to-order at the Townhouse have been legally graded for eggsellence.

Short list for job?

With the departure of Razorback Athletic Director Jeff Long, social media is abuzz with speculation for his permanent replacement. Who's on the short list for Long's job? Is there even one yet? Potential candidates I've heard have Arkansas connections (physically and emotionally) such as former Hog coaches Tim Horton, Ken Hatfield and Houston Nutt, along with Camden native Tommy Tuberville. Others disagree, but I believe deeper ties with our unique state and an understanding of the Razorbacks tradition are vital, along with being a leader, manager and fundraiser (lots of new stadium seats to fill now, eh?).

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 11/19/2017

Print Headline: Enforcing eggcellence

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