The influence of Egyptian unification and expansion on the southern Levant at the end fourth millennium bc has been the source of a protracted debate. In this article, a novel approach to the study of Egyptian–Levantine relations considers how food preferences, mediated by knowledge transmission and local cultural logic, provide an effective interpretive scheme for understanding the nature of relations between neighbouring societies. To this end, zooarchaeology can reveal how food preferences become enmeshed into the transformation of identity. Zooarchaeological analysis from the Early Bronze I (EB I) village of Horvat 'Illin Tahtit, Israel, finds a clear overrepresentation of cattle forelimb parts relative to hindlimb parts. The results of a correspondence analysis of faunal data from late fourth-/early third-millennium assemblages in the Levant and Egypt shows that this pattern of forelimb overrepresentation is most common in Late EB I when the intensity of Egyptian–Levantine relations peaked. I suggest that while Egyptians clearly accorded high status to cattle forelimbs, their Levantine contemporaries, who did not have materially inscribed social rankings, defined cattle forelimbs according to a cultural logic unrelated to status.