Many highbrow French foodies perceive doggy bags as American and, synonymously, uncouth.

But “Un doggy bag, s’il-vous plaît,” may become a more common request if environmentalists have their way.

A new law in France requires large restaurants to provide take-away containers, or “les doggy bags,” to any customers who ask for one.

Aimed at cutting back on food waste, the initiative launched at the beginning of the year and applies to establishments with at least 150 diners a day, reports France24. More than 100 restaurants in Paris are already in compliance with the new regulation, but shifting behaviors is another thing entirely.

As one opinionated diner told Reuters, “It’s not in the French culture; it never has been. How come Americans wear a revolver on their belt and French people don’t?”

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Point taken. But are doggy bags really American? Here’s a brief history.

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Roman roots

Today’s doggy bags are the descendant of a tradition among Roman nobility that was, surprisingly, a sign of courtesy. In the 6th century B.C., banquet guests wrapped their leftovers in napkins and brought them home, etiquette expert Dorothea Johnson wrote in her book “Tea & Etiquette: Taking Tea for Business and Pleasure.” It was considered rude to do otherwise, a suggestion that the food was not good.

The practice stagnated until the scarcity of the World War II years, when the modern doggy bag was born.

Literal bags for dogs

In the 1940s, food shortages affected Americans of all classes. Economical pet owners were encouraged to minimize waste by feeding their dogs table scraps, says Smithsonian Magazine. San Francisco eateries were the first to start offering leftover food packets for patrons to bring home to their pets, but the practice soon spread across the country. And as Americans realized that Fido doesn’t need foie-gras, more and more of them started asking for take-away containers for themselves.

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As The Washington Post documented, by the 1980s, the country had firmly latched on to the idea of doggy bags. There was even doggy bag art: one Georgetown waiter folded his aluminum foil containers origami style into nearly any animal you could think of. The District even legalized “wine doggy bags,” because although wasted wine doesn’t have the same environmental effect as wasted food, it’s just as lamentable.

People around the world warmed to the idea, too. But France has been a hold out, until the government gave them a gentle push a few days ago.

While only time will tell if French connoisseurs really adopt the practice, it remains to be seen if it’s actually an effective way to manage food waste. The United States sends more than 30 million tons of food to landfills every year, so maybe we’re not the best role model.

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