For the past three and a half months, I’ve been in Venezuela doing field work for my PhD research on food sovereignty efforts here, or on attempts to transition the country from heavy reliance on food imports through petroleum dollars to greater food self-sufficiency and greater citizen participation in the food system. Having followed these efforts for over a decade now, it’s fascinating to see how central food politics are to the broader politics of the moment. It’s also fascinating—in a maddening sort of way—to follow the media spin on a situation that I am witnessing directly.
Reading the latest stories in outlets like the New York Times—of scarcity, starvation, people eating stray dogs and pigeons—leads me to wonder if I’m actually in some parallel universe. They’re just so far removed from what I’ve witnessed in the working class community of El Valle, Caracas where I’m living, or in any of the many different communities in six different states I’ve visited over these past months. Of course, within these dire reports are grains of truth. Indeed, food shortages are a major issue at present. But—and here the reality is being distorted—rather than a situation of overall food scarcity, food remains abundant in Venezuela. The shortages are of particular essential items—such as corn flour (used to make arepas, a Venezuelan staple), coffee, and toilet paper—while other items—such as corn porridge, hot chocolate, and paper towels—remain available. Furthermore, the shortages are occurring in supermarkets and shops, while these very same products remain available in restaurants, cafés, and the like. The particularity of the items missing from supermarket shelves, and the fact that they remain available elsewhere, speaks to some deeper politics at play, as I have recently written about elsewhere. But regardless of what is driving them, the shortages and the long lines associated with them are taking a toll on the average Venezuelan. Making matters worse, a combination of inflation and speculation has driven up food prices overall, so that even available items are increasingly expensive.