When the fresh goat cheese calls to you, here's what to do. 
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Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

There's a goat staring at me. A couple hundred of them, as it happens. I'm not about to skip the fresh, raw cheese made from their milk and topping the salad in front of me, even if I have to pay a physical price a few hours later. I know how lucky and rare this opportunity is, so I indulge. Worth it—this time.

Travel these days is a series of personal negotiations. I've been dealing with a gut condition called SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) for a while via an extremely aggressive (and expensive) course of antibiotics, an herbal protocol prescribed by my nutritionist, and most relevant to this particular goat barn reckoning, a Paleo diet. It sucks, even though it makes me feel much better. Not only do I have to avoid dairy, grains, legumes, soy, and a few other things that tend to agitate my gut—I have to do endless, exhausting mental math to make sure I still manage to get fed. That's become routine at home, but in my job as a food journalist it gets in the way of being able to fully experience the city or country I'm traveling through.

Since my symptoms and reactions aren't life-threatening (just potentially gross and uncomfortable), I've managed to work out a system of compromises. Just to caveat, I work with the advice of my doctor to "minimize harm" when I'm making decisions, and you should consult with your own healthcare professionals before deciding to dive into something that may or may not agree with you.

Do your homework

If I'm not feeling like I'm missing out on experiences, it's so much easier for me to feel present, actually enjoy myself, and avoid eating things that just aren't worth it. While sure, I'll leave a few things to chance, if I can plan and look forward to an exceptional restaurant meal (where I know what's on the menu), a trip to a food producer, or some other particular-to-the-place edible thrill, I tend not to end up feeling cheated and pouty.

Assess the risk

So back to the goats. On a recent trip to Ireland, I had the opportunity to visit St. Tola Goat Cheese Farm and sit down to an exceptional meal served smack dab in the middle of the barn. (Of course you are wondering and yes, you get used to the smell very quickly.) I did the calculations—I'm trying to avoid dairy, but this is the best, freshest, most distinctive and local dairy I'm ever going to eat. Which would I regret more, the potential stomach discomfort, or missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? I rolled the dice, and I won. I know I won't always get that lucky, and not everyone can take the risk, but I don't want to let fear rob me of living.

Have a backup plan

At any given time, I'll have one or two RxBars located on or near my person. They're a Paleo-friendly bar that has become something of a safety blanket for me. If I'm stuck in a situation where there is genuinely little or nothing I feel I can safely eat without rattling my system, I don't have to panic because I know there's at least something I can have and I won't go hungry. It's annoying to have to pack this "safe" food, sure, but I rationalize that I'll have extra room in my luggage on the way home. Speaking of which...

Pack it to go

It's a little less daunting to try a potentially system-shaking ingredient in the comfort of my own home. Often, I'll buy a few "Ooooh, I can only get this ingredient here!" souvenir foods to take home and try at my leisure. It may even feel like a mini re-vacation.

Have a reboot ready

I got home from my trip to Ireland feeling deeply grateful for the experience, but not so physically excellent. I made sure to have foods on-hand waiting for me that I knew were in my safety zone. I slipped back into my routine pretty easily and was feeling like myself again within a couple of days. Not gonna let a little bit of delicious living get my goat.