The Pilgrims were happy with venison and beef jerky. Yuppies turned to blackened redfish and quiche. But are you ready for the meal of choice in the 21st century? Try gas flushed chicken.

That entree was among an array of culinary choices outlined that food experts believe may comprise our menus in the future.More encouraging, however, is the ease with which we may buy such items. Video shopping, according to experts, is one possibility. Robot checkout cashiers is another.

"Fast food is too . . . slow," said Marty Friedman, editor of New Product News. "No one has time for fast food anymore."

But if the food writers and product spokesmen at the 11th annual International Association of Cooking Professionals are correct, we don't have much to look forward to.

They foresee a world where "cooking becomes something few understand while heating becomes something everyone does."

Fast food home delivery, triple packaged, re-sealable potato chips, oat bran popcorn, and "melting pot ethnic foods" like the "burritski" - a burrito filled with Polish sausage - are almost upon us.

The real villain, they said, can be summed up in one word: microwave.

Because today's busy career people want food on demand, the microwave is threatening to reshape the way we cook and eat, according to Richard Nelson, director of marketing research for the Campbell Soup Co.

"They'll probably be one microwave per person in the future," said Nelson, who used a slide show to accompany his address at the convention. "That way, no one will have to wait to eat."

Nelson flashed a slide he said symbolized the microwave's impact on society. The picture showed a haughty waiter at a fancy restaurant asking a well-dressed patron, "How would you like your steak done, sir?"

The customer responded: "Three minutes on high, turned every 30 seconds."

But countering the trend toward heavily packaged, microwave food has been the public's demand for fresh food without preservatives.

"The freshly prepared game was started by small entrepreneurs in major urban markets," said Nelson. "Now the big boys want to play."

The challenge facing food manufacturers in the future will be how to create fresh foods with a shelf life while keeping up with continual demands for products to use in the microwave, the panelists said.

One example is gas flushed chicken, the term for a high-tech packaging process in which the bird is precooked without preservatives in a vacuum-sealed bag; the end result doesn't require refrigeration.

"Convenience, health, indulgence - those will be the major issues in the future," said Richard Gerstman, a food consultant with Gerstman and Myers.

The current tendency toward "cocooning," the panelists said, will play a major role in how food is purchased in the future.

"People are just going to want to put on their slippers and turn on the VCR. They won't want to go out," said Friedman.

Stores in Chicago are already testing a cable home food shopping program and a chain in Atlanta is testing automated checkers, the panelists said.

But for those who like an occasional foray to the supermarket, they may also find the shopping cart of the future has changed. "Video carts" will come with a flashing screen promoting various products.

Among harried husbands and wives of the future, the experts predicted, the greeting upon returning home will be "whose turn is it to heat?"