Social Justice

Rapper and TV chef Big Zuu: 'The more people give back, the better the world we’ll see'

Big Zuu talks to The Big Issue about his love-hate relationship with food growing up, the days where he feels down and how happiness can lead to change

big zuu

Big Zuu has partnered with belVita to spread positivity, and the biscuit brand will donate up to 100,000 meals. Imag: belVita/Joel Chant

What is one thing that made Big Zuu smile today? “Ah.” He looks stumped. “I’ve just woken up.” 

I am momentarily worried. It is noon and we are chatting about his ‘Give a Smile’ campaign and his mission to fight food poverty with positivity. Half my questions are about smiling. 

But rapper, presenter and chef Big Zuu quickly rolls out his famously upbeat personality, flashing a beam as he says he accidentally left his cameraman outside because he was asleep. Oops. At least it gave them both a laugh (and me too, even if it is mostly relief).

To be fair, the 28-year-old deserves a long sleep. The fourth season of his BAFTA-winning show Big Zuu’s Big Eats is on screens and, between lots of promo, he is still finding the time to campaign against food poverty.

Big Zuu is all about spreading happiness, and he believes that will truly drive change. Image: belVita/Joel Chant

At the heart of it, Big Zuu is just a guy who really loves food, and that is enough to bring out the biggest of smiles even on days when he is not quite feeling his upbeat self. Get him talking about Lebanese pizza and you are flying. 

“Food is my life,” Zuu says. “My connection to it is spiritual, mental, physical. When people aren’t passionate about food, I get worried, but I understand that everyone has a different relationship with it. Some people love it, some people don’t. We need food and that’s what I think is beautiful.

“We talk about food poverty in the UK and I feel very lucky that I’m able to indulge in different types of food. I have the means to go to different restaurants. When we look at what’s going on across the country, there’re people who are starving.”

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Big Zuu, whose real name is Zuhair Hassan, speaks from a personal place having grown up in a single-parent family on a council estate in West London. His mother was a refugee who fled war in Sierra Leone when she was four months pregnant, and they often struggled to afford food. He started cooking when he was 10 years old and she was pregnant again. 

“There wasn’t always a great relationship with food,” Big Zuu says. “There were times I was upset about the position we were in. There were times I was indulging in the same things all the time, and eating a lot of canned food and saying: ‘Mum, why are we eating this again?’

“But my mum tried her hardest to make food fun and make us enjoy food even by the means that she had, so growing I kind of had a love-hate relationship with food. But the love was always strong. The hate came from the fact that we were always in a tough situation.”

Little Zuu would be thrilled if he saw his life now. He is a rapper and grime artist (his cousin is AJ Tracey), but food is his obsession. He started out with cooking videos on YouTube and Snapchat, and they quickly captured big audiences drawn in by his charisma.

He was snapped up for Big Zuu’s Big Eats, which launched in 2020 on Dave. He chats to celebrities about their favourite meals and whips them up three courses, winning him two BAFTA awards last year. Mo Farah, Jonathan Ross and Alex Scott are some of those to feature in its fourth season.

“I get incredible opportunities to do incredible things,” Zuu says. “I get to travel the world and meet incredible people and eat incredible food. I definitely feel like the other side of the spectrum is giving back and helping people that are less fortunate. It helps me keep my balance as a human.”

In his glamorous life of brand deals and celebrities, Zuu still has this innate sense of wanting to fight for the community he grew up in – after all, he started out as a social worker. 

His latest campaign ‘Give a Smile, Help Fight Food Poverty’ seemed the perfect match. Teaming up with belVita and charity FareShare, Big Zuu is spreading positivity and helping to end hunger. They are out to prove that giving back will make you a happier person. 

Big Zuu leads the Smile Society through the streets of London. Image: belVita/Joel Chant

The campaign was launched with Big Zuu leading a group – known as the Smile Society – through the streets of London, tasked with making as many strangers smile as possible. Their tactics? Impromptu rap verses, compliments and renditions of people-pleasing bops. After the campaign is over, belVita will donate up to 100,000 meals to people in need. 

“Sometimes people feel like they are forced to give back or they have to stop for the person on the street,” Zuu says. “But what we did was quite simple. All you had to do was give a smile and every smile given would lead to food donated. It felt like something different. And sometimes doing something different is the best way.”

Big Zuu is a happy guy, or at least that is the impression he presents, but he admits that even he has down days. I’d fallen into this trap myself, expecting him to come brimming with joy even though he had just woken up. 

“There are times when I feel like I’ve got the world at my feet, and there are times it all feels like a bit too much,” he says, “Sometimes I feel like I chase normality, but I accept that I traded that for the career that I’m in, so there are times I wish I could do certain things or be in certain places.

“But I also try to pick myself up quickly and not let the negative thoughts seep in. I feel like when you get into a dark time you feed off it and you indulge in it. Negativity spreads quickly. Sometimes when you sit in it, you keep going further and further. I like to just pluck myself out quickly once I get into a dark space. I use my friends, my family, food – these incredible things that I love. 

“I try to lean back into those things. I don’t stay in the dark times. A lot of people look at me as a happy guy, a positive guy, you know? But I definitely have times where I might doubt myself. I might be upset. I might be lost in the wrong thoughts. I try to just bring myself back.”



The day before we spoke he was at a ping-pong tournament. There were 100 people in the room all playing ping-pong to help another charity he works with, the Young Urban Arts Foundation. It was bizarre but tremendously joyful and all in the name of giving back. He believes, more than anything, that giving back will bring us happiness. Well, that and food.  

“We as a society, we are the power,” Big Zuu says. “Sometimes we look at the people in power and think about what they do in society, but if we just took a little bit of time out of our busy lives to give back, I feel like we will see change. I feel like the more people can try and volunteer their time or give back in any form, the better the world we’ll see.”

Big Zuu has partnered with belVita as part of its partnership with FareShare, which will see the biscuit brand donate up to 100,000 meals. To help belVita on its mission, and for more information, visit giveasmile.belvitasnacks.com

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