What do wonky veg, cheap food, cutting red tape and consumer choice have in common? They’re all phrases that don’t make any sense in our food system. At a time of global crisis, rewriting the food company dictionary might sound trivial, but it’s actually a vital part of better decision-making. We need the right vocabulary for an era of fair food.

We should stop using the term ‘wonky vegetables’. They aren’t wonky, they’re just vegetables. Misshapen carrots might be harder to peel, but if so, simply don’t peel them. Mainstreaming crooked vegetables won’t solve the myriad of problems in the food system. But it will dispel the myth that people will only eat food that’s cosmetically perfect. Focus on nutritional quality and easy access instead.

What about the ubiquitous phrase ‘cheap food’? We know food is artificially cheap, as we don’t pay the true cost. Unhealthy food is too often the cheapest. We must rebalance what we pay for those foods that contribute to healthy, sustainable diets versus those that don’t. Focusing on food affordability and taking measures to address income and poverty is better than the cheap food mantra that too often leaves food producers on their knees.

Then there’s ‘cutting red tape’. The government has repeatedly used this term in its push to deregulate, potentially getting rid of the Groceries Code Adjudicator and removing public health measures. Referring to so-called ‘red tape’ is deeply unhelpful. Instead let’s be honest and explain that getting rid of red tape means removing vital protections for our environment, workers and farmed animals.

Finally, the phrase ‘consumer choice’ is a particular bugbear. Thinking of ourselves as ‘consumers’ immediately reduces our role to that of buyer only, and limits our choices to what we can afford to buy. Instead, if we treat each other as food citizens rather than consumers, it unlocks our agency as people. Rather than put the onus on individuals to ‘make the right choices’, let’s push for, and shape, better options to choose from. This is not semantics, it’s important.

What words or phrases would you hit the find and replace button for in the food sector lexicon? We need to choose our words carefully to encourage better, rounded decisions and positive action. How we frame language affects whether and how people respond. As food industry leaders, you have the opportunity and responsibility to change debates, affect policy and influence behaviours of people as food citizens. Let’s make fair food the new normal.