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By Staff | Mar 16, 2012

Except for a few nomads in Outer Mongolia, everybody now knows that 85-year-old Marilyn Hagerty has spent decades living on the edge as the “Eat Beat” reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. Her column lauding the recently-opened Olive Garden restaurant has attracted nationwide acclaim.

Not only has she been given yards of news copy, but she has been interviewed by television networks, becoming the best- known North Dakotan since Eric Severeid provided daily wisdom on CBS television.

Some fancy Eastern folks were amused by a favorable review of a chain restaurant. They don’t understand that Grand Forks is a Scandinavian town with very few Italians. In fact, this restaurant wouldn’t make it on Italian traffic alone. So a favorable review is our way of telling the Norwegians it’s okay to welcome the Olive Garden by making it their annual dining out destination.

And they have. Because of the publicity, the place is crammed with customers, including some wayward French, Poles, Czechs, Germans, African-Americans, Asians, as well as the usual mix of Norwegians, Swedes and Danes.

Rumors of all kinds are flying about Marilyn’s future. Some say that she is in line for a television contract, testing the products of those chefs who spend afternoons cooking in front of lonely television viewers. And it’s about time for some cooking transparency. For sure, half of them would have to leave for honest employment if they were exposed to the scrutinizing pen of an experienced food critic.

Another television possibility would be that of a talk show hostess on CNN, maybe even replacing Piers Morgan with a new show called “Don’t Eat It” to help America’s obese learn how to cook. That would attract a really big audience. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marilyn doing a gig on “Dancing with the Stars.”

But the Marilyn story is about more than an 85-year-old who can still remember to put all of the ingredients in the soup. I’m not sure you know that 80 percent of recipes get shorter as cooks get older but you can be sure that Marilyn’s soup has everything the recipe prescribes. The real Marilyn story is one of unwavering courage in the face of eminent danger. When the U. S. Marines are handing out Purple Hearts, I hope they reserve one for Marilyn.

She has never flinched from doing her duty but has sauntered bravely into restaurants that would buckle the courage of most health inspectors. In fact, it is said that she has strolled unabashedly into eateries as ptomaine victims were being carried out.

She has eaten more overcooked and undercooked food from unregistered kitchens than the troops in Iraq. Now that’s courage deserving of a Purple Heart.

As far as I am concerned, the Captain’s Feast at the Red Lobster will be hard to beat. But I have an open mind. Ruth and I will find out when we get our turn at the Olive Garden. Unfortunately, we can’t get in until June 6, 2015 when their Marilyn Hagerty addition is supposed to be finished.

I hope that Marilyn doesn’t have any Olive Garden stock in her portfolio. A little conflict of interest scandal would certainly give her trouble in the Republican presidential debates in 2016 and a juicy morsel like that would not be overlooked by Ron Paul.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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