By Carlos Garcia Rawlins and Alexandra Valencia
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's soaring prices and chronic shortages have left 65-year-old homemaker Alida Gonzalez struggling to put meals on the table.
She and her four family members in the Caracas slum of Petare now routinely skip one meal per day and increasingly rely on starches to make up for proteins that are too expensive or simply unavailable.
"With the money we used to spend on breakfast, lunch and dinner, we can now buy only breakfast, and not a very good one," said Gonzalez in her home, which on a recent day contained just half a kilo of chicken (about a pound), four plantains, some cooking oil, a small packet of rice, and a mango.
The family did not know when they would be able to buy more.
Recession and a dysfunctional state-run economy are forcing many in the South American OPEC country of 30 million to reduce consumption and eat less-balanced meals.
In a recent survey by researchers from three major universities often critical of the government, 87 percent of the respondents said their income was insufficient to purchase food.
The study of nearly 1,500 families found rising percentages of carbohydrates in diets, and found that 12 percent of those interviewed do not eat three meals a day.
Government supporters have long pointed proudly to the improvement in eating under late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who used oil income to subsidize food for the poor during his 14-year rule and won United Nations plaudits for it.
But President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's successor, has faced a collapse in the price of oil, which provides almost all foreign income. He further has blamed an opposition-led "economic war," though critics deride that as an excuse.
Either way, Venezuelans are tired and cross.
A minimum wage is now only around 20 percent of the cost of feeding a family of five, according to one monitoring group. Lines snake around state supermarkets from before dawn.
"You have to get into these never ending lines - all day, five in the morning until three in the afternoon - to see if you get a couple of little bags of flour or some butter," said taxi driver Jhonny Mendez, 58.
"It makes a person want to cry."
Natalia Guerra, 45, lives in a small home in Petare with eight relatives, only one of whom has a significant salary.
She remembers buying milk for her own kids but now cannot find any for her grandchildren. "We're a big family, and it's constantly getting harder for us to eat," she said.
(Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Toni Reinhold)