Shuna Fish LydonShuna Fish Lydon is a Bay Area pastry chef and food blogger at a site appropriately labeled Eggbeater. Shuna’s resume includes such venerable establishments as Gramercy Tavern, The French Laundry, and Citizen Cake. I asked Shuna to get personal about the economics of food, working in restaurants and how money plays a role. Shuna whipped up a few answers to these questions:

1. Often times, restaurant workers work long hours for low wages and are struggling to make ends meet. What can restaurants do to improve the living wage?
A person doesn’t open a restaurant and think about human capital. They open a restaurant because they make a great soup; employees are not considered in the business plan. Restaurants are not run in a sustainable fashion – in order for them to be successful they have to sell some part of their soul to the devil.

I think that restaurants are starting to become more aware of the issue of creating a fairer atmosphere for their employees because those able to afford culinary schools enter the industry with different expectations than cooks did 10 or 15 years ago. After paying tens of thousands of dollars to go to school they see that working 12 hour days at 7 dollars an hour won’t pay off their student loans. Or their parents pressure them to enter kitchens where the wages are higher because the culinary schools have alluded to being able to earn more money than the industry has ever offered for entry level positions.

Unfortunately, it’s the people washing dishes and on the prep teams who are really struggling. The industry is being serviced more and more by Latin American (and undocumented) workers and they’re the ones who are being forced to settle for the low-pay. I write more about this on my blog with a post called May 1st A Day Without An Immigrant National Protest.

2. What is your most significant memory about money?
It was terrible because I grew up in a home where we didn’t have much money. My first memories were dreadful and painful. I remember as early as five years old watching my mother struggle because she didn’t get child support payments from my father. Things were tough.

3. What is your worst habit around finances?
I’m one extreme or the other. I’m either overly conservative with my money or throw all caution to the wind. For example, I document every single penny spent in an Excel spreadsheet but then I’ll go out and blow hundreds of dollars on nice bedding. Garnet Hill happens to be my current obsession.

4. You have been quoted as saying, “Food is political. It cuts across class, race, and gender.” We could also say that food is economic. Do you agree and if so, how?
Money always circles back to politics. Food is similar. Everyone has to eat food. However, food policy in this country is unique because the United States government is involved. Bush recently allowed India to export their mangos to the US. That’s great. I love mangos, but he did it because he wanted India to do something for his administration. It was an international diplomacy exchange and really had nothing to do with mangos.

5. If you could buy one thing right now what would it be?
Oh that’s easy, I would buy a house. Other than that I would buy a SLR digital camera. My blog has the tagline: cooking, baking & nifty photos. Blogging actually helped me rediscover my passion for photography. I would love a new camera.

6. Do you and your girlfriend see eye-to-eye about money?
Ahhh… I don’t have girlfriend. But if this interview gets me a few dates then more power to Queercents. (Side bar: Any takers? Shuna lives in the Bay Area and may be reached by email through Eggbeater).

7. What would you do with your life if money were not a consideration?
I’m already doing something that I love. Obviously, money would make things easier and I could afford to take more risks within my career and passion.

8. Have you thought about retirement?
Oh god, no. I’m not sure I’ll ever retire. No one in my family has ever retired. As a matter of fact, everyone in my family still works so I’ve never seen an example of retirement. The motto in my family has been: work until you die.

9. What did your grandfather teach you about money?
I learned my work ethic from my grandfather – for better and for worse. I guess you could say my work ethic could kill me if I’m not careful. I need to focus on balance otherwise work consumes me.

10. Does money buy happiness?
Yes and no. I come from a very depressed economic background so I definitely have a lot of emotion around this issue. I’ve been making my own money since age 14 and nothing has ever been handed to me. I always thought that surviving paycheck-to-paycheck was the norm until I realized that other people lived differently. Funny, how you learn things as an adult.

More About Shuna Fish Lydon
Shuna identifies as a seasonal fruit-inspired pastry chef and has been known to have not-so-secret love affairs with certain stone fruits and citrus. Currently at-large, Shuna’s delicious recipes, inspirations, photographs and (sometimes controversial) prose can be found online at Eggbeater, KQED’s Bay Area Bites or in the quarterly magazine Edible San Francisco. Find Shuna sporting the old school tool on the handsome blue and orange eggbeater t shirt at any of the various Bay Area farmer’s markets or teaching an undergound class near you.

Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Photo: Courtesy of Sam Breach of Becks and Posh