I took this photograph in February 1994 in a small Russian city called Volzhskiy. Even though the Soviet Union had ceased to exist two years earlier, Volzhskiy was truly a Soviet city and felt more Soviet than many of the other places I visited in Russia. The city did not come into existence until more than three decades after the 1917 October Revolution. Situated on the bank of the Volga River opposite the city that once was Stalingrad, it served as a fallback point and staging area for Soviet troops during the Second World War. However, even after the war it took several years for a more permanent settlement to grow into a city. The construction of a giant hydroelectric dam across the Volga and the navigation lock system brought people here for the long run. Volzhskiy was remote enough that by the time I arrived, only one other foreigner, an Italian telecommunication consultant, had ever visited the community. It seemed as if the Soviet Union was still somewhat alive there with Communist Party slogans still emblazoned on buildings, many appearing to have been painted within a short time before I had arrived.
This lunch lady fit perfectly in this only-barely-post-Soviet setting - feeding the first generation of Russians in seven decades to taste freedom using her tough Soviet-era lunch lady techniques. During the winter months she made everyone that ate in the school lunchroom, adults included, eat several cloves of raw garlic each day in an attempt to make us healthier.