Maggie Baird has long advocated a vegan lifestyle and environmental awareness — values she has famously imparted to her outspoken and influential children, Grammy-winning bedroom-pop superstars Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell. So, as businesses in her hometown of L.A. are forced to close their doors to the public due to the COVID-19 crisis, she has created a new initiative, Support + Feed, to help keep the local restaurant economy afloat — while also providing nutritious, plant-based meals to those in need, including healthcare workers, first responders, and residents at senior centers, homeless shelters, and women’s centers across Los Angeles.
Among the many restaurants participating in Support + Feed is Donut Friend, in Baird’s neighborhood of Highland Park, the kitschy rock ‘n’ roll donut shop founded by Rocket From the Crypt/Drive Like Jehu indie-rocker Mark Trombino. “You can ask for the ‘Billie Ache,’ which is a donut they make on the secret menu. It’s a gluten-free donut, with lemon curd and chocolate mousse and raspberry on top,” she chuckles. So, has Baird sampled this off-menu vegan pastry named after her daughter? “Oh yeah. It’s really good.”
Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume, Baird discusses not only Support + Feed, but also her fears and hopes for Generation Z, how her family is holding up (and staying creative) while in lockdown, how quarantining might inspire young artists to make albums in their own bedrooms, and homeschooling advice for stressed-out parents. For more information on Support + Feed, go to www.supportandfeed.com.
Yahoo Entertainment: How did you come up with this idea and get it going so quickly?
Maggie Baird: Well, what happened was I was sitting at home and I was really just thinking about all my favorite vegan restaurants and really worrying about them. And then I thought, “Well, I’m not really ordering takeout myself, but I could order and have it delivered somewhere that really needs it. So I got on Facebook, actually, and people helped me find a place that could use it right away. And I called one of my favorite restaurants in order a bunch of food and had it sent to the Midnight Mission. But as I did it, I realized that there were lots of stumbling blocks to doing that. You’ve got to make sure the restaurant can accommodate your order, you’ve got to make sure the place can receive it, that it’s all safe. And when I started to think about it, I thought if we could hook the L.A. restaurants up with the charities that needed it and let people have a kind of one-stop-shopping, or they could just make the donation and we would make sure that the food got where it needs to be, this would make it a lot easier. And maybe we could help a lot of people who need food, and also keep the restaurants afloat. So I had this idea. I mentioned it to a few people who just said, “I’ve got nothing to do, let me help you.” And everyone just jumped in and we just sort of devoted a whole week and got it up and running within like five days, I think.
How did you first get into vegetarianism?
You know, it’s funny story. I grew up in Colorado. My dad actually was a wonderful person, and also happened to be a Hunter and fisherman. And my brothers and I never would eat meat our whole lives. We just wouldn’t eat it. We would refuse it. Of course, in that day and age you kind of got forced to eat it. But the minute we all became teenagers, we foreswore it.
Veganism is a really good lifestyle to adopt now, if you haven’t already, because obviously we’re all at home, trying to stay healthy, cooking for ourselves. What would be your advice for aspiring vegan families.
Well, we live in a time of the internet. It’s so easy to find a vegan recipe for literally anything you want to eat. It’s also the most basic way and easiest way to eat. You know, we’ve had a couple comments, as you always do, like “our heroes that you’re feeding need meat!” and or “what about us carnivores?” But everyone can eat vegan food. Plant based-food is most of what people eat anyway. And there’s a million things you can make that are plant-based. starting with the most basic rice and beans, which is [how] most long-life populations of the world [eat]. Right now more than ever… a plant-based diet, a vegan diet, is not only the healthiest diet for human beings, but of course it’s the healthiest diet for the planet, which scientists are telling us constantly.
Thirty-five years ago I was wearing a shirt that said “Save the Amazon Rainforest. Stop Eating Meat” — 35 years ago! We’re so slow to figure this out. And now we’re in this serious crisis. Of course there’s the pandemic right now, but when we get through this, we still got the planet on the verge of extinction. So the plant-based side is one of the major ways people can save the planet, and it’s the cruelty-free way to live. One thing my brother said to me when we were teenagers and when we became vegetarians and vegans was: “It’s one thing — you wake up every day and you go, ‘At least I’m not doing [eating meat].’” There’s one thing I can do personally every single day: eat cruelty-free and healthy for the planet. It’s really like the easiest thing that you can do can make a big impact.
Your children are such high-profile advocates for veganism and environmental awareness, and I see how their fans respond to it. Does it give you any hope, that Generation Z is going to sort of take, take the reins on this and help create a better future?
I do have that hope, but I also just worry that there’s not enough time. I do think that when [Generation Z] are in power, we have a chance at survival. But we have to take actions sooner than that, because it’s actually quite dire, the state that our planet is in. I mean, Greta [Thunberg] is just a hero of all heroes, and it makes me feel good that like Billie, in addition to being raised the way she has, she’s really discovered it on her own as well. She finds things and she’s becoming passionate on her own. That’s really encouraging, that that generation is doing it. But my generation — I turned 61 on [March 29] — we have to step up to the plate, because we are about to give them no alternatives.
I’m sorry that you had to celebrate your birthday in quarantine. How in general is the family holding up? I’m not sure if you’re all in lockdown together. I saw Billie and Finneas together on Elton John’s Living Room Concert for America; sadly, they had to celebrate the anniversary of Billie’s debut album that day in quarantine. How are you dealing with these crazy times together?
Well, it’s hard not to just feel lucky that we can be together. And we are all together. Finneas and his girlfriend will live separately from us, but we get to visit because we were all on tour together when this happened. So we actually took the tour bus home, full of foo, and came home. So we didn’t have to quarantine apart; we get to see Finneas and his girlfriend, and they come and see us. So we’re really lucky. One, one hand you can go, “Wow, you had to cancel or postpone your arena tour,” but when you think about it, it’s such a small price to pay compared to what other people are paying. … So, those of us who just have to stay at home, no complaints.
How are you guys occupying your time?
Well, I am occupying my time with Support + Feed to contribute money to and help the restaurants stay afloat and get to the people on the frontlines. And we’re fostering puppies! Billie and Finneas are doing what they do: together making music, working on projects.
I hate to use the term “silver lining” because these dark times, but do you see a silver lining in all the kind of artistic surge of creativity we’re seeing out there — with new music and live streams, connecting with fans in that way?
For sure. I see a lot of silver linings. You know, the cost is so high, but to make something positive out of terrible things is the way we all survive, I think, in life. The creativity that’s coming out of it. I mean, Billie and Finneas have always made their music at home in a bedroom, and I think more people can do that. …There’s a big silver lining in what we’re going to have as content. I think people will start to see that maybe big production value isn’t always what matters — it’s the art that comes out of it.
Actually, I think the album that Billie and Finneas released really released a year ago, it’s an album that could have been made during this time. It’s so reflective of our times. I think people have had this idea that like, “Why are these young people writing such dark material?” And it’s like, first of all, there’s a giant history of that in music, and second, now is kind of a dark time. There’s a lot of things that really need to be talked about. And so, as people start to talk about them and address them, I think that’s a good thing.
What positive lessons can people could take from this pandemic, and continue even after things are back to relatively normal?
I really hope we don’t just go back to the world as it was. You know, the simplicity of being with your family. We were lucky enough to homeschool our kids — or we’d call it “unschooled world school.” People are not getting the benefits of what we got to do [in homeschooling], which was we got to be out in the world camping and going to parks and field trips. They can’t do that. But they are getting the benefit of being with their kids. So help families take advantage of that. More family time, simpler lives, less driving, less polluting, less spending… just lead a simpler life and put the planet first and your connections with your loved ones first.
Your children were quite famously homeschooled. Now there are so many parents out there that find themselves in that situation unexpectedly, with schools closed nationwide. What is your advice to them?
I would say take a breath, enjoy your family. Focus more on the mental health of your family and the being together and the social interaction, and not worry as much about what did they learn when. Taking the teachers into account, we want to support their hard work. But you can’t get through a day in life without learning. You just can’t. There’s so much to learn everywhere you look, and as a parent you’re just looking for those opportunities. Your child asks a question about something that they’re interested in — that’s your cue. That’s your cue to find out all there is to know about that and to engage with kids. You don’t have to have a worksheet. Maybe they like worksheets; that’s fine. If they like worksheets, do it. But otherwise, cook with your kids for math, build something for them, play board games. Enjoy your time with them. This is a great time also to work on their emotional education. Talk about their feelings. Talk about how they’re viewing all this. This is a kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. … [Don’t feel] too stressful about the what you have been indoctrinated to think of as the only way to educate. There’s a lot of ways.
Back to the subject of Support + Feed, how can people in the L.A. area participate in this initiative?
Just go to our website and we have a page with all our restaurants. Click on any one of those restaurants you want to support. .. Then they will prepare that amount of food and we will coordinate it. After that, you’re done. Just make the donation, and I promise you we will make sure it gets to the charitable organization or the people in need in homeless shelters or on the frontlines that need it. And that’s really all you have to do. We’ll do the rest and we’ll post pictures. You can see the pictures of the really happy workers receiving it and the people in the shelters receiving it. So just one stop and you’re feeding a bunch of people — and you’re saving a restaurant.