- Zoya Biglary cofounded Fysh, a plant-based raw fish product, to be healthier and more sustainable.
- The plant-based option allows vegans and other restaurant-goers to eat sushi, ceviche, lox, and more.
- This article is part of “Better Me,” a series about improving your lifestyle and helping society through sustainable efforts and eco-consciousness.
Zoya Biglary, 32, didn’t grow up eating raw fish. She was 18 years old the first time she tried sushi, and from that moment, she was hooked.
For the next 10 years, Biglary enjoyed crudo, poke, ceviche, and sushi with friends until, one day, it started to make her feel sick.
While she told Insider she was never diagnosed with an allergy, “in my body,” she said, “I felt like there was something up.”
That, combined with internal conflict around eating animal products — Biglary said that she sometimes puts chicken down mid-meal if she thinks about the fact that she’s eating something that was once alive — led her to create plant-based raw fish alternative, Fysh.
When Biglary couldn’t find a product she loved, she decided to make one herself
Biglary doesn’t follow a vegan diet but said she hasn’t eaten red meat in 14 years, rarely eats seafood, and only sometimes consumes poultry.
After spending too much money on dinners she couldn’t enjoy, and after becoming bored with eating avocado rolls at sushi bars — “no hate to avocado rolls, but they get old,” she said — the Los Angeles resident started shopping around for a plant-based alternative.
But when she tried a vegan raw fish option already on the market, Biglary was unimpressed.
“It looked really cool in the pictures,” she said of the first alt-salmon she tried. “It had the stripes on the outside and I thought, ‘Wow amazing!’ But it arrived and it was just, like, a block of gel.”
She described it as “liquidy” with an unpleasant taste and texture. “I wanted to like it so badly,” Biglary said.
That’s when she got to work on Fysh.
During the early stages of development, Biglary tried another option that popped up at her grocery store’s sushi bar but again was disappointed by the product: “It was like you were chewing tree bark.”
So, in a partnership with her friend and celebrity personal chef Paul Barbosa, Jr., they created something they felt was delicious, pleasing in texture, and — with the addition of omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil — nutritiously comparable to real fish.
Biglary wants to make people feel included with Fysh
Biglary said that suddenly giving up burgers and sushi after eating them for so long was despairing. She craved the experience of eating animal meat.
“It’s so dramatic to say [Beyond meat] changed my life, but at that point, seven or eight years ago when I first tried it, it kinda did,” Biglary said.
Biglary said she wants people who aren’t eating raw seafood to have a similar experience with Fysh and get to enjoy something they may be missing.
“You want to have the texture, you want to feel like you’re included,” she said.
Inclusion is a driving force for Biglary, not only by providing more options for people to eat but also by being a visible model of success.
Biglary said she wants people to see her as an openly queer, first-generation American Persian woman and feel like they can do anything, too.
“I didn’t see much of that growing up,” Biglary said regarding openly lesbian women in business. “And if I did, they didn’t look like me.”
Part of her growth dream for Fysh is to keep it as sustainable as possible
Biglary said wants to reduce the amount of bycatch — fish that end up in commercial nets that aren’t the target species — and fishing-related pollution in the oceans. Our World in Data estimates marine sources including fishing gear make up 20% of plastics in the ocean.
She said Fysh creates less food waste than fish because much of the animal ends up going to waste, especially in western culture where not as many people will eat the head, eyes, and brain.
Biglary said cofounder Barbosa’s commitment to sustainability drew her to work with him in the first place.
“He’s into fermentation, he’s into using the same ingredient four or five times before getting rid of it,” she said.
Using mushrooms as an example, Biglary said Barbosa will use what he needs for a recipe, then ferment the scraps to make amino acid seasonings out of them, and then powderize what’s left.
Fysh is made using powdered vegetables and binding agents like tapioca and sea algae and is mixed by hand — currently by the founders — in a commercial kitchen. There are no machines using up energy, she said.
Since Fysh is more shelf stable than seafood, it doesn’t need to be shipped express like fresh-caught fish does, which also makes it easier on the environment (though it still needs to be shipped cold).
Biglary remains hopeful about improving the packaging. Fysh is currently vacuum sealed in plastic as Biglary hasn’t yet found a usable alternative — but she’s excited to see companies working on developing seaweed-based options.
“I just want everyone to inspire each other to get better and people to have better options,” she said.
Whether you eat fish or Fysh, Biglary hopes to inspire people to make more conscious decisions when it comes to food
While she wants Fysh to be the Beyond and Impossible of seafood, she said there’s room in the market for everybody.
Biglary hopes there are more companies that continue to make better plant-based raw fish options so that consumers have choices and can find one that works for them.
Ultimately, she wants to show people that eating fewer animal products can be doable and enjoyable even for those who don’t yet think so.
“I’m not a full vegan, so I’m not going to push this hard narrative,” Biglary said about going completely plant-based. “But everyone could do a little bit.”
Fysh is currently available at the Erewhon sushi bar locations in Los Angeles’ Beverly Grove and Studio City neighborhoods.