Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Most people would celebrate their retirement after 40 years of service by maybe playing a round of golf or packing for a long cruise, but Miguel Villarreal kicked his off by riding to the top of Mt. Diablo with 10 pounds of sugar strapped to his bike.

It was all for a good cause. The sugar represents how much of the sweet stuff a student could eat in an academic year at the school cafeteria. And Sunday morning’s ride itself was to raise money to help fund a program — Eat REAL — that encourages healthier choices and helps schools meet nutritional standards.

Ten pounds of sugar. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

The Bay Area nonprofit says every $10 donated to the ride will eliminate 10 pounds of sugar from the menu, and will help it to expand the program to more schools. There is a waiting list of 150 schools in seven districts throughout the state wanting to participate.

Two Bay Area school districts already are in the program. Mt. Diablo Unified School District has achieved certification and Vacaville Unified School District is working toward certification, Eat REAL’s Violet Batcha said. The money from the “bike-raiser” will go toward expanding the program to the schools on the waiting list.

Mt. Diablo Unified School District’s Food and Nutrition Services is classified at the “Green level” for their onsite programs. The district has worked hard to remove more than 10 pounds of added sugar per student per year, increasing sustainable ingredient sourcing, and increasing the quality of ingredients while removing harmful ones across all of its regular menus.

Villarreal is an Eat REAL board member and spent his 40-year career as a public school food service director. He also is the son of migrant farm workers who relied heavily on school meals when growing up. The ride was personal for him, telling observers that while the bike up the mountain was arduous on a hot day, it was nothing compared with what students go through to get a healthy meal.

Nora LaTorre, CEO of Eat REAL, says Villarreal is an inspiration. He raised about $5,000 for the nonprofit, which now is asking others to donate to its GoFundMe,, with dedicated rides of their own.

Eat REAL was founded in 2012, and since 2019 has focused on improving school meals. Participating schools are accessed and given a rating on how healthful their meals are. The group then works with the schools to find ways to eliminate sugar and other poor nutritional offerings, and works with the district and vendors to find better choices.

Villarreal was joined on his sweet ride by fellow board members Andrew Deitz, of Corte Madera, and Julie Rapoport, of Mountain View.

By senior