THE PLIGHT OF the picnic has gone unnoticed for more than decade. It could be that air-conditioning and outdoor barbecues have been major factors contributing to this sad situation and that the energy crisis and threatened "brown-outs" may turn the tide.

The increase of five-day-a-week brown-baggers is not considered significant, since they go back to work after their repast and are not in a position to fully enjoy themselves.

Some avant garde and enlightened thinkers have gathered together in an effort to review the past, and establish new guidelines for this joyous ritual. Older members of society have been invited to share their knowledge with the distinguished panel.

First reports from the sages indicate that in the olden days, as spring gave way to summer, families, friends and lovers would escape the heat of their homes and gather on river banks and parks with baskets of delicacies to be consumed for the duration of the afternoon. Many were seen carrying multi-color chenille bedspreads decorated with peacocks and flowers. These ancient artifacts were used to sit on, and in the event of inclement weather, to shelter members of the party from the elements.

The panel hoped to establish workshops led by masters in the following subjects:

Basic conversation

Garland-making (including butter-cups, daisies and clovers)

Cat's-cradle string puzzles

Jacks, hopscotch and stick ball

Wild-grass-flute-blowing

Butterfly-catching (with and without nets)

Four-leaf-clover-hunting

Pistachio-opening

Trading cards

Spider-spinning-watching

Napping in the grass

Advanced napping in the grass

Webster's states that the origin of the word picnic is either German (picknick) or French (pique-nique). It is defined as an "excursion or outing with food usually provided by members of the group; a pleasant, amusingly carefree experience." Based on fond memories, careful research and creative thinking, the following guidelines and suggestions from the sages are offered to past and prospective picnickers. Trappings

Putting picnic equipment to be used for the season in one place, beforehand, saves time and effort. An inventory of paper items needed for the season can be purchased in quantity at pre-summer sales. It is also an opportunity to recycle many items gathering dust in the back of the closet.

An odd set of utensils, vacuum bottles, wide-mouthed thermal jars, trash bags and wash-ups may be placed in a chest, basket or hamper. Mushroom, apple and peach baskets found at a produce stand work beautifully.

The extras may include: a cotton sheet or washable bedspread, rush mats, soft fluffy pillows, a tape recorder, a portable radio, musical instruments, games, a book of poetry, needlepoint, sun tan lotion, an ant farm (in the hope that a queen ant will wander in by mistake), watercolors, a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, a boomerang, letters received last Christmas and never answered, empty glass jars for tadpoles or fireflies. The Place

This can be the time for an adventure, an interlude to break the monotony of a long trip, or a moment to enjoy peace and quiet. There are thousands of places to drive, walk or bike to in the Washington area. A bit of imagination is a necessary ingredient of the plan. Here are some suggestions. Pet-a-Pet Farm

This farm in Vienna currently has at least ninety-eight known pregnancies, an elephant for riding that winters in Florida, two baby lions, buffalo, sheep, Ilamas, ostriches, chimpanzees, supervised petting areas, and baby ducks that slide down a shoot into a tub of water. This contact farm is dedicated to conservation and education. There is a grassy area for picnics and a guaranteed whole day of fun.

Pet-a-Pet Farm, 1228 Hunter Mill Rd., Vienna. 7ctober 31, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Admission is $1.50 for adults, $1 for children. Prince William Forest

Getting away from it all can be done easily at Prince William Forest. There is a nature center, fishing streams stocked each year with 17,000 trout and more than thirty miles of trails through the woods. You should expect to park and walk.

Prince William Forest. 35 miles S of Washington on I-95 near Triangle, Virginia. (The exit is marked.) Open dawn to dark. Fountain Four

Tucked away at the entrance to East Potomac Park is a small nook called Fountain Four. This tiny formared-and-yellow tulips during the spring, and mari-golds, summer. There are no trash cans provided, so you must bring a bag with you.

Fountain Four. Across the inlet bridge on Ohio Drive. Open dawn to dark. Shenandoah National Park

Beautiful vistas, waterfalls and fresh moutain drinking water can be found at the Shenandoah National Park. The entrance through Luray, Virginia, could provide a side trip to the famous Luray Caverns.

Shenandoah National Park. 80 miles W of Washington. Take I-66 and U.S. 211. Open dawn to dark. Glover-Archbold Park

Ten minutes away from the noise and traffic of Georgetown there is a lush, green, wild forest, Glover-Archbold Park, a precious place given by the Glover and Archbold families to the people of Washington. The entrance at New Mexico Avenue and Garfield Street leads to a sometime creek, picnic tables and a wooden bridge. The Safe Picnic

The beauty of the wild holds some danger. Some of Mother Nature's friends can ruin an afternoon. Bees, copperhead snakes, poison ivy and poison oak exist in almost all wooded areas. When entering a large park, make note of the nearest ranger station. When leaving, take everything you brought with you. Don't take anything that belongs in the park. Becareful with fire.

Food safety, especially during warm weather, is extremely important. What you don't know could kill you, or at least, produce the common flu-like symptoms of cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever caused by food poisoning and usually attributed to "the bug." This preventable form of "summer complaint" may have been brought along innocently in a picnic basket or brown bag.

The bacteria Salmonella, Clostridium perfingens, and Staphylococcus have no telltale flavors or odors. The best hot food hot, cold food cold and all food clean. Here are some practical pointers:

Buy meat, poultry and dairy products last at the supermarket.Have them packed together, so they stay cool. Go right home and store them immediately.

Do not buy meat, poultry or fish in cans that are severely dented, leaking or bulging. If the contents of any canned good looks or smells suspicious, don't taste it. Return it to your supermarket.

When preparing food for picnics, clean work wurfaces with soap and hot water - including wooden cutting boards and counter tops - before and after using them for raw meat and poultry. Don't put cooked meat or poultry on the same surface or in a container used for the raw product unless it has been completely cleaned.

All meat and poultry products should be thoroughly cooked, reaching an internal temperature of at least 155 degree . Don't leave them out to "cool." As soon as they are cooked, put them in the refrigerator.

All fruits and vegetables may have residues of pesticides or herbicides as well as bacteria. Therefore, they should be well-scrubbed and dried before packing for picnicking.

Wash hands often during preparation of food. Disposable wash cloths are extremely valuable when handling food and eating outside. If you have an open cut or sore on your hand, wear rubber or plastic gloves when preparing food.

Hot foods should be stored in vacuum and thermal containers. Cold foods can be kept cold by placing freezer gel containers around them. These containers can be made by filling plastic tubs and cups (like the ones used for margarine and deli products) with water, covering with a well-fitting lid, and freezing.

After eating, carefully wrap and store leftovers in a cool place until you get home. Where to Buy It

Some of the most unusual things to carry a meal in can be found at Floral Arts Inc., 5516 Connecticut Ave. NW, 362-7800. Michael Bonnet and Barbara Girson have collected everything from an Ethiopian food carrier, lined with straw ans covered with leather, to be worn over one shoulder if you wish ($40), to Haitian snake baskets ($20 small, $25 large), fish carriers from Thailand ($14), and Chinese straw back packs ($25). Their selections could easily double for planters and wall decorations during the off-season.

Israeli market baskets can be found at, of all places, Saks-Jandel, 5514 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, 652-2250. They are practical, light-weight, come in six colors (royal blue, white, yellow, grass green, black and orange) and, at $7 each, are a bargain.

Dove Flowers, Inc., 2300 Wisconsin Ave., 333-3366, has some lovely CHinese wicker suitcases that come in three sizes (small $17.50 , medium $22.50, large $27.50). Any one would easily hold a sumptuous meal and a bottle of wine.

Sporting goods stores carry innumerable items that can make life in the wild a bit easier. Eddie Bauer, Expedition Outfitters, 1800 M St. NW, 331-8009, has jugs in several different sizes for liquids, freezer gel containers, special tube-like dispensers for catsup and mustard, and hundreds of other items you wonder how you ever lived without.

Surplus stores are good places to find inexpensive knapsacks, utensils, cups and all the handy, light-weight, indestructible "picnic" equipment that is good enough for the military and fine for you, too. Latin American Picnic

Now that you have your gear together, try a collation from south of the border. Menu roast chicken humita en chala queso y dulce iced mate Roast Chicken 1 four-pound chicken salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chicken prepared in this way is delicious. For the best flavor, try to buy a bird that has never been frozen. Do not stuff. Stuffed bird do not travel well in hot weather.

Place chicken in an open roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 350 degrees until golden brown. Humita en Chala 12 ears of corn 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening 1 medium onion, well chopped 1 tomato, chopped 1 sweet pepper, chopped 2 teaspoons paprika salt and pepper 1/4 cup milk 1 tablespoon sugar cinnamon to taste (optional)

Melt shortening in a large frying pan, lightly brown onion, then add tomato, sweet pepper, paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Let cook slowly until smooth, about twenty-five minutes. Stir from time to time.

Shuck corn, reserving the largest leaves of husks. Wash and dry leaves. Grate corn, mix with milk, e. Let sauce cool. Stir well. The mixture should have the texture of pudding.

Take two leaves of corn, about three inches wide, and place 2 tablespoons of mixture in center. Fold and tie well, as illustrated.

Place packets in a deep pot with salted water, bring to a boil and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours. Serve in leaves.

Six people should have two to three packets each. Quesoy Dulce

Quince and sweet potato paste (plain, flavored with cherries, chocolate or vanilla) are available at most Latin American markets. This delicious, in expensive sweet is served sliced with a wedge of muenster or other mild cheese.

One tin of paste (about one pound) and one pound of cheese should serve about six people. Yerba Mate

Stacked floor to ceiling in most Washington-area Latin markets are one - pound packages of yerba mate. This tea-like herb, tha favorite beverage of Brazilian and Argentine gauchos (or cowboys), is usually brewed in gourds and sipped through long metal spoon-shaped straws. This refreshing stimulant can be prepared in an ordinary teapot. During the summertime, iced mate made in the following manner is delicious:

For each serving, pour one cup of boiling water over two teaspoons of mate. Let it brew for three or four minutes. Strain well. Add sugar and fresh lemon juice to taste. Serve over cracked ice. French Country Picnic

The French have a flair for making ordinary foods specexception. The menu is simple, travels well, and out in the open fields or deep woods would pass for haute cuisine anytime: Menu artichokes breast of veal tomato salad spiced cake fresh fruit Artichokes

The crown jewel of the thistle family is not only delicious, but easy to prepare and very portable. Count on one per person.

Trim stem and a few of the bottom leaves. Place in a large pot of water to cover. Add the juice from half a lemon, 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, salt and a few drops of olive oil. Boil until tender but not mushy, about twenty-five minutes.

An excellent sauce to dip the leaves in consists of lemon juice, salt and a lot of freshly ground pepper. Breast of Veal 1 whole breast of veal (about four or five pounds) 3 tablespoons peanut oil 2 medium onions sliced 1 tablespoon parsley 1/2 teaspoon thyme 1 tablespoon tarragon 1/2 cup dry white wine 1 cup veal or chicken stock 2 bay leaves salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large casserole, heat two teaspoons of oil. When hot but not smoking, braise veal breast until browned on all sides. Remove veal and place in roasting pan.

Add one tablespoon of oil to casserole. Heat. When hot but not smoking, add sliced onions, parsley, thyme and tarragon. Saute for about three minutes. Add white wine. Cook for two minutes. Add stock, bay leaves and salt and peper to taste. Stir well and let simmer for ten minutes. Pour mixture over veal breast. Cover tightly. Place in oven at 350 degree. Cookery twenty minutes.

Meat is done when it can be pierced with a fork and feels tender. Do not overcook.

To serve for a picnic, cut meat between bones and break apart. This is definitely finger food. The meat may be garnished with a few drops of fresh lemon juice as it is served. Tomato Salad

In France, this simple salad is served regally as an appetizer. The secret of its success is tomatoes fresh from the garden, almost over-ripe.The marinade blends the flavors so beautifully, each precious drop of dressing should be sopped up with a piece of crusty French bread. 1/2 cup heavy olive oil 1 teaspoon hot French mustard or Chinese mustard 2 cloves garlic, crushed 1/3 cup wine vinegar salt 3 sun-ripened tomatoes, sliced 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Place oil in a large bowl, add mustard and garlic. Beat until well blended. Salt to taste. Add tomatoes and parsley. Let sit at room temperature at least on hour before serving. Spiced Cake 2 cups flour 1/3 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 cup sour milk or butter-milk 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 2 tablespoons honey 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 1/4 cup cognac

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Mix well until smoot Grease a loaf pan (8" x 5" x 3") and fill with dough. Cover with foil. Bake at 400 degree for twenty minutes and reduce heat to 350 degrees for forty minutes. Uncover during the last five minutes of baking. Sprinkle with cognac. Allow to cool. Cut into thin slices. This cake keeps extremely well when wrapped in waxed paper and foil. The Great Supermarket Picnic Adventure

The Great Supermarket Picnic Adventure begins on a rainy afternoon.The maketing chores for the week have been completed and several hours of free time and a few extra dollars have been set aside for some research and procurement. This can be done in an ethnic market or the gourmet section of any chain supermarket or department store.

The items gathered can be kept in readiness on a kitchen shelf or in a picnic basket for that magical afternoon when Mother Nature calls her creatures, great and small, to her bosom.

This is not necessarily an expensive proposition involving exotic concoctions. Many foods end up in the gourment section because the store manager didn't know where else to put them. Some things are regional American specialties. Many imported items are real bargains because of the changing rates of foreign currency.

Be sure to check packages, cnas and jars. They should not be broken, dented or leaking. Always read the labels carefully.

Food Mar, 3075 M St. NW, 333-3466, has Stuart's Beef and Kidney Pie with flaky pastry crust, imported from Ireland (fifteen and a half ounces, $1.65); Champagne Delight chopped chicken livers (eight ounces, $1.25), made in Richmond, Michigan (Is that the chicken liver capital of the world?); sliced celery knobs from West Germany, made by Albert Mittendorf (fifteen ounces, $1.49); Reese's sweet-and-sour red cabbage with applesauce for added flavor (one-pound jar, eighty-nine cents).

The Acropolis Food Market, 1206 Underwood St. NW, 829-1414, has fasolia yahni, (beans cooked in olive oil and spices); and peppers, tomatoes, and grape leaves stuffed with rice (fifteen-ounce cans, all for under $1); octopus pieces cooked with olive oil (five ounces, ninety cents); canned halvah (fifteen ounces, $1.40); all imported from Greece.

Gees Market, a Jamaican food store located at 3583 Warder St. NW, 859-5505, has Solomon Grundy. This is not a character on Sesame Street, but a spicy fish spread to be consumed with crackers (four-ounce jar, $1.19).

To drink, there is guava nectar (twelve ounces, forty-five cents) and syrup concentrates made from mauby bark extract, sorrel and ginger beer. They are mixed with water and seved over ice (twenty-six-ounce bottle, $1.59 to $1.98). For dessert, canned whole mangos (nineteen ounces, eighty-nine cents). Simply slice and eat.