How Living Next to an Animal Rights Activist House Changed This Tattoo Parlor

by Zach Groff

How do hearts and minds change when social movements form? As much as people often look at glamorous historical moments, it’s the water cooler conversations those moments provoke - activists and their allies speaking with friends and family - that change hearts and minds.

That happened a few months ago to Aaron Nassberg, who runs Modern Electric tattoo parlor in Berkeley, when a handful of animal rights activists moved into the apartment above his business.

Zach: What changes have you made, and why?

Aaron: My conversations with Naomi, Orlando, Sam, and all of [the activists who live upstairs from me] got me in and out of lacto-ovo vegetarianism. When I first went sober ten years ago, it got me thinking of God, spirituality, etc. I’m of Jewish descent, and I’ve always struggled with the not eating [pigs’ bodies] thing. When I got sober, I definitely decided that I wanted to start living my life cleaner and more conscious. In that recovery, I lived with a dog for the first time in my life, and that led me to give up all mammals.

Then it just happened one day… I moved on to caring about other animals. I’m opposed to the culture of meat. I’m opposed to the culture of the slaughterhouse. It was actually through a few of DxE’s links that I saw the phrase that behind every glass of milk was a baby calf, that the dairy industry thrives on meat animals.

It was this year that I found out that even if you buy supposedly humane meat, it comes from an unethical place. It still comes from a slaughterhouse which is a very cruel place.

Tattoo by @kerryirvinetattoo #realistictattoo #birminghamtattoo #worcestertattoo #redditchtattoo #bromsgrovetattoo

A photo posted by The Modern Electric Tattoo Co. (@modernelectrictattoo) on

Z: What changes has modern electric made?

A: We have devised a vegan workflow. This man James Spooner used to come up here from Southern California who runs a vegan movement and has a tattoo shop. I started talking to James and saying, “what are your vegan inks?” I’m interested in thinking about what I am pounding into somebody. As far I can tell, the difference between vegan ink and non-vegan ink is that non-vegan ink is likely bone black. I had never thought of it before. Other animal factors are shellac pigments (beetle based) and glycerin.  

Pigment selection is intensely political. The selection you make determines what you put into yourself and where it is sourced. While there’s still a little shadowy aspect to tattooing, I think it’s really important to expand that discourse, though.

So now, to answer your question, if you want an entirely vegan workflow, yes, it’s here for you. I’m not vegan, but I support the movement, and I understand that animal rights has an intense meaning to it. It’s very intensely political. I have cognitive dissonance, but that can’t get in the way of acting.

Z: Have you experienced any pushback?

Yeah - while so many people have been excited, I’ve also been shocked by the hostility of some people. It’s weird. I think I’d be drummed out of some of my social circles, but I feel like it’s because people know that we’re doing something wrong. Like I think people know that they’re doing something wrong, and people get angry.

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  1. Sign up to our mailing list and share our content on social media. 
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