What? Another country has run out of fries?
Forget the French fries. How about a side of yuca with that Big Mac?
Venezuela's more than 100 McDonald's franchises have run out of potatoes. Now they are serving alternatives. Like deep-fried arepa flatbreads or yuca. That's a starchy staple of traditional South American cooking.
McDonald's is blaming a contract dispute with American West Coast dock workers for halting the export of frozen fries to Venezuela. The dispute also caused several days of French fry rationing in Japan last month. But Sonia Ruseler, a spokeswoman for the company that runs McDonald's restaurants in Latin America, declined to say why Venezuela's neighbors are not suffering from similar scarcity.
Many Venezuelans assume the embattled socialist government is to blame. They are accustomed to shortages of their favorite foods. And they are equally in the habit of grumbling about the government as they walk away empty-handed.
"It's because of the situation here. It's a total debacle," said Maria Guerreiro. She left a McDonald's in Caracas with her family when she found out they were serving only fries made of yuca. The food also is also known as cassava. Her daughter won't eat the super-starchy root, she said. They'd come for the sole purpose of treating the two-year-old to a Happy Meal. Caracas is the capital of Venezuela.
McDonald's has likely been grappling with shortages in Venezuela for a while. That's according to Alixa Sharkey. She is a researcher with the market research company Euromonitor International.
"This situation probably has little to do with the U.S. port dispute and is mostly the result of Venezuela's very difficult economic situation," she said.
While McDonald's may be the ultimate symbol of U.S. capitalism, the socialist government seems acutely aware that Venezuelans relish their Happy Meals. A state-sponsored news website posted a story assuring that the situation "has nothing at all to do" with government policy.
At the Caracas McDonald's, a man wearing an "employee of the month" cap braved the dinner rush recently. He explained to patrons that instead of French fries, the store was offering yuca fries, mini-arepas, or salads.
Some customers sampled their pale yuca fries tentatively as they picked up their orders. No one chose the salad.
Critical thinking challenge: Fries are made from potatoes, which grow on farms. So why are dock workers who load ships causing problems for French fry-loving Venezuelans?