Nutritionists point to long-term health risks of low-quality food as basic staples are hard to find or being sold at exorbitant prices
Not so long ago, whenever Juan Gonzlez would go to the butcher hed buy a few nice steaks for himself and cow lung, known here as bofe, to chop up and feed his dog.
Now bofe is what I eat, when I can get it, said the 55-year-old elevator repairman on a street in the Venezuelan capital.
With prolonged shortages of basic foods, Venezuelans have been forced to shift their diets to whatever they can find. And what they can find is not necessarily healthy.
Milk, meat and beans the main sources of protein in the Venezuelan diet are hard to find or sold at exorbitant prices, and many are filling up on empty carbs from pasta, rice and the traditional arepa cornmeal cake.
These fill you up and make you fat but they are not nutritious, said nutritionist Hctor Cruces. Viscera are high in fat and low on protein.
A study revealed last month by Venezuelas top three universities showed that 12% of those polled said they were eating less than three meals a day.
And those who do have access to three meals have seen a deterioration in the quality of their diet, said Marianella Herrera-Cuenca, of the Bengoa Foundation, an NGO dedicated to promoting nutrition.
Children and the elderly are hardest hit. Investigators from the Bengoa Foundation said a sampling of 4,000 school-aged children showed 30% were malnourished and that school absences were on the rise.
Paula Arciniegas, 19, said she worried about the development of her two-year-old daughter because when she cant find milk which is often she calms her childs hunger with a mix of water and cornstarch.
And I try to get her to sleep through the morning so I dont have to worry about her breakfast, she said.
Cruces, the nutritionist, predicted that future generations of Venezuelans will be shorter and wider because of the low quality of the food they are consuming. The lack of calcium will stunt growth and excess carbohydrates will make them fat, he said.
Critics of the socialist government of Nicols Maduro say food production collapsed in the oil-reliant country due to a mix of the expropriation of farmland and agro-industrial enterprises and strict price controls that made importing food cheaper than producing it locally. But a byzantine currency control system and plummeting oil prices have slashed imports of raw materials and food products.
Empresas Polar, the countrys largest food processor, warned last month it was halting beer production due to a lack of barley, and Coca-Cola said its low sugar stocks may force it to stop production of soft drinks.
Government supporters say its all part of a destabilisation plan backed by a rightwing opposition and foreign interests that want to see Maduro ousted from power.
To counter that economic war, Maduro has urged people to grow their own food and raise chickens in their homes and created the ministry of urban farming; more than 80% of Venezuelans live in cities.
Rafael Camacho, 56, took the idea to heart. Originally from the rural region of Barlovento where his family had a farm, Camacho says he has dredged up what he learned as a child to help feed his family of nine. On a slope behind his half-built home on the hills above Caracas, he proudly shows off the budding plants of corn, squash, bananas, melon and beans. On the rooftop of his house he planted cilantro and peppers and various herbs.