Student Journalist Spotlight: Brian Dzenis, Editor-in-Chief, The Temple News

Temple University student Brian Dzenis is a devoted member of what he calls “Team Bacon.”  Along with journalism, Dzenis has publicly declared his enjoyment of three things most in this world: “sports, bacon, and foods that include bacon.”

The editor-in-chief of The Temple News, the student newspaper at the Philadelphia school, recently tested his bacon adulation and general carnivorousness by agreeing to not eat meat for a full month.

The challenge was part of “Vices,” a creative series published over the past year within the News “that challenges what we think we need.”  As the paper explains, “For each segment, a different writer will give up something he or she ‘can’t live without.’  We watch them land safely or crash and burn.”

Past News staff have temporarily sworn off personal obsessions such as coffee (“Coffee controls my life.”); smoking (“I let cigarettes control my life, my happiness, and my sanity.”); their smartphone (“My BlackBerry is my life.”); and World of Warcraft (“To say I like to game is a vast understatement.”).

Dzenis officially joined the Vices crew this semester.  A spicy beef jerky in late September was his last taste of normal for four weeks.  After removing meat from his diet, he found himself searching for protein from food such as black beans, Greek yogurt, veggie burgers, and peanut butter, to varying success.

The latter proved the tastiest.  “Jif and I are BFF’s,” he wrote in a reflection piece earlier this month.  “He made the headaches and hunger go away.  He makes fine peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, goes on crackers and goes great with bread and sliced bananas.”

In the Q&A below, Dzenis fleshes out his meat-free experience– including the side-effects and cravings– and recounts what it was like to rejoin Team Bacon after a month away.

You seem to love bacon a lot.  How did that start?

My attraction to bacon and other meat goes back to my childhood.  My mother would cook bacon on Sundays and the smell would wake me up in the morning.  She would also make homemade burgers and steaks as well, so meat has always been more or less a featured part of my diet.  At home, I’ve had days where meat has been part of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  For example, there would be scrambled eggs with bacon, followed by a burger for lunch, and then chicken and a baked potato for dinner.  I guess when meat has always been regularly available, it makes it hard to give it up.

What physical, mental or emotional side-effects emerged during your recent meat exile?

Physically, the only time I really felt bad was during the first week when I started getting headaches from what my staff and I figured (and we’re certainly not doctors or nutritionists) was from the lack of protein.  Once I started eating a lot of food with beans or nuts, I was fine.  I didn’t weigh myself during the process, but I doubt I lost much, if any, weight.  I just noticed I could stay up a lot later at night during my meatless month.

On the mental or emotional side, I was told I was a little irritable at times from my staff.  As far as what I was thinking, avoiding meat never came naturally and was always a very deliberate decision. Anytime I went anywhere, I always had to do this exercise of crossing off all the things I couldn’t have. It’s not fun having to tell yourself ‘no’ so many times.

How often did you find yourself longing for meat of some type?

Every day.  Every single day.  I would get cravings from anything like smelling my roommate cooking burgers for himself to my helpful and supportive staff bringing chicken wings into the office and eating them in front of me.  I usually don’t watch that much TV, but I really made a point to get away from TV.  Those commercials are a tough sit.

In your related Temple News column, you wrote, “There are no words to describe the experience of eating bacon after a month [of not having it].” A bit more time has passed.  Do any words now come to mind?

It’s certainly hard to describe it in coherent sentences.  I would use words like strong, relief, filling, and maybe even warmth?  Even eating meat now (this is my first full week back), it doesn’t compare to that first bite after going a month without it.  It just tasted a lot stronger than I remember it, if that makes any sense.

[In Temple News video, watch Dzenis bite into meat for the first time in four weeks.  His all-smiles reaction: “Sweet Jesus, that’s good.”]

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