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, an Argentina-based spokeswoman for Arcos Dorados, which runs McDonald's restaurants in Latin America, declined to say why Venezuela's neighbors are not suffering from similar scarcity.
Accustomed to shortages of their favorite foods, and equally in the habit of grumbling about the government as they walk away empty-handed, many Venezuelans assume the embattled socialist administration is to blame.
"It's because of the situation here. It's a total debacle," said Maria Guerreiro, who huffed out of a Caracas McDonald's with her family when she found out they were serving only fries made of yuca, which 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.
Ruseler said the corporation is working to resolve the shortages. In the meantime, it "will continue to give our clients the McDonald's experience, offering 100 percent Venezuelan options."
Most of the shortages in Venezuela are driven in part by the country's tight currency controls. As a result, the country either has the most expensive Happy Meal in the world ($27 at the official exchange rate). Or it has the cheapest (90 cents at the black market rate).
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 patiently 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?