Peggy O’Neil, a professor in Brescia University College’s Food and Nutritional Sciences and Leadership Studies departments. Photo courtesy Peggy O’Neil

Brescia professor’s dream comes true

  • October 20, 2022

Growing up in Middlesex County in southwestern Ontario, Peggy O’Neil said she and her family would encounter Brescia College — now Brescia University College — on their route to pick up pizza for dinner.

The campus building fascinated O’Neil. Then a young girl passionate about the Disney princesses, she wondered if Brescia was a castle fit for a royal family. 

“I asked my Mom, ‘do princesses live there?’ My Mom said to me, ‘no. That is a university with a lot of women there trying to change the world. ‘Oh my gosh,’ I thought. ‘Forget the prince that’s going to save me. I want to join that community and try and save the world.’ ”

O’Neil ultimately was gifted the same fate as all the animated heroines she watched growing up: her dream came true.

Since 2008, O’Neil has served Brescia as a faculty member in the women’s college’s Food and Nutritional Sciences and Leadership Studies departments. She works to impart knowledge about home economics, building sustainable food systems and enhancing nutrition literacy within the leaders of tomorrow.

“Every single day I see how bright our future truly is by the faces that are in my classes, and their bright eyes, bright ideas and the hope — I love that,” said O’Neil, a home economist who also hosts the Food for the Future radio program on 980 CFPL from London, Ont. “We literally have the faces of the world at Brescia — students from all four hemispheres.”

Manifesting a prosperous and ecologically viable world for tomorrow is requiring urgent efforts in the present to raise awareness about the issues the people of the planet must confront.

Last spring, O’Neil served as keynote speaker at a virtual Building Sustainable Food Systems Symposium hosted by Brescia, Fanshawe College, Western University, the Ontario Centre of Innovation and the London Economic Development Corporation. She, along with fellow academic and industry experts, sought to give insights to help viewers shift their mindset from being strictly consumers of food to being at-home growers.

“Even if it is something as simple as a window sill where you can plant your own basil, tomato seed or something like that if only to be a participant in the food-growing process. Expanding that out further, doing a bit of gardening in your backyard can help us learn to appreciate what it takes to grow food, but also to start to supplement the pressures on the food system in areas where we are beginning to see food shortages.”

O’Neil’s message about sustainable food production has only become more consequential over the half a year since her speech at the symposium. Few Canadians are immune from the soaring food prices in Canada and around the world. According to the latest Consumer Price Index, which came out on Sept. 20, the food inflation rate rose to 9.8 per cent, the worst grocery bill outlook since the early 1980s.

Affirming that adopting a food creator mentality will help individuals and families navigate this period of adversity, O’Neil would like to see people educate themselves, learn about the activities happening in their community in regard to food security and to critically consider their own micro-food system.

Encouraging signs are present, said O’Neil. The long-time educator cites the efforts of the national Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council, a body that provides counsel and formulates targeted initiatives to tackle complicated food system challenges. She is also pleased that Grades 1 to 9 students in Ontario are learning hands-on food literacy concepts during the fall semester.

Inertia, in O’Neil’s estimation, looms as one of the greatest threats slowing the global community from embracing the type of attitude shifts and actions to foster the type of long-term food resource security envisioned by world bodies such as the United Nations.

O’Neil adds that she is very supportive of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all UN member states in 2015. She praises the document as “a global vision that is to be achieved by local action,” and the spirit of inclusivity present within the text.

“All life has dignity and all life can contribute,” said O’Neil.

The cornerstone of this document is 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The first two are ending poverty and creating zero world hunger. The document then branches out to other objectives including reducing inequalities and practising responsible consumption and development.

O’Neil would like to see she and women she teaches at Brescia build off the momentum of their symposium this year to continue fostering widespread dialogue about these issues and to conceptualize ways to inspire innovative food sustainability solutions.

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