If the characters are at all "Outsiders," be they members of a subculture (like stoners, slackers, hipsters, or rock musicians), modern artists, lonely single men, or Cloudcuckoolanders, and their refrigerator is shown, it will be entirely or nearly empty, possibly save for a mysterious, unidentifiable stain, a carton of long-expired milk, or an ancient, inedible sandwich. The empty refrigerator is usually shorthand for alienation from society due either to lifestyle or poverty, and often both. Additionally, the shortage of edible food also tends to exclude such people from being viable hosts thus making the characters appear more alienated which feeds this trope. Generally, the more socially alienated a character is, the higher the probability that their refrigerator resembles this trope. Other variants of this include a refrigerator full of alcoholic beverages and little else, or a refrigerator stocked entirely with expired food. In very, very extreme situations, the refrigerator may contain a dead (non-food) animal such as a rat or pigeon, or some other random object not usually stored in a refrigerator, like old sneakers or underwear.
Often a symptom of a lonely bachelor pad; the implication being that a bachelor can't or won't shop properly or consistently. They may be in Perpetual Poverty or from the Wrong Side of the Tracks. Frequently seen in the Broke Episode. Can show up in Standardized Sitcom Housing.
Troubled, but Cute Rei Kiriyama from Sangatsu No Lion is shown to have a nearly empty fridge in the beginning of one chapter to emphasize his near-isolation socially. This analogy also extends toward his near-empty house.
In Honey and Clover (which is by the same author as Sangatsu No Lion), protagonist Takemoto looks in his fridge after experiencing yet another disastrous event in his life. He realizes the buzzing noise he hears from the fridge is the same noise that's been filling his head since childhood: the sound of emptiness. It triggers one of the major events of the plot and gives him a lot of Character Development, so the next time he looks in his fridge and it's empty, it doesn't bother him anymore.
In "The Watcher", sad washed up FBI agent Joel has nothing in his fridge except for an orange that looks like a lemon, and a couple of condiments. He also has no job and no life.
In Time Chasers, bachelor inventor Nick Miller's fridge is empty except for a head of lettuce (of indeterminate age). When Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured this movie, they quipped "Loser status: confirmed," upon seeing this scene.
In TRON: Legacy, Sam sad a couple of cans of beer and not much else in his refrigerator.
Fight Club: "How embarrassing. A house full of condiments and no real food."
Bridget Jones's Diary: After the breakup with Daniel, there is only very old cheese covered with ice in Bridget's fridge. But she mentions that she ate the entire contents of her fridge, though, so it's probably not a permanent state.
In the TV movie High School USA, Otto (Todd Bridges) invites JJ (Michael J. Fox) over for dinner, but JJ declines, saying he has plenty of food. Cue Otto looking in JJ's fridge and seeing only a bottle of ketchup.
Both implied and averted in Seinfeld: Kramer comes to Jerry's apartment to eat, presumably because he has a refrigerator like this. Jerry's refrigerator is usually the aversion, but Kramer drank expired milk from it at least once.
Sara Sidle on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation reveals that she only had some take out cartons in hers during the search of a victim's house whose refrigerator was in a similar state. She throws them all out after considering Grissom's urging her to get a life and get out more, symbolizing her wanting to take his advice.
In The X-Files episode "Chinga", Agent Mulder's fridge contains nothing but a huge jug of orange juice. He takes a swig straight from the bottle, makes a face at the taste, checks the date (which is at least 4 months expired), and spits the juice back into the bottle. He then puts the bottle back in the fridge. He manages to do this whole routine while he's on the phone with Agent Scully who took a weekend off and whom he misses dearly.
Barney's fridge in How I Met Your Mother. His whole apartment is designed to keep women from feeling at home, and all he's got for food seems to be Gatorade.
In Dead Like Me, George's dad doesn't keep much in his fridge besides leftover takeout after the divorce.
On Heroes, after Noah Bennet gets divorced, his fridge is empty save for some condiment bottles, water, and some milk and cereal. Peter is a similar case, except that he just simply forgets to buy groceries due to work unless his mother drops by with groceries.
On The Last Ten Pounds Boot Camp, a reality show wherein the hosts help the weekly guest to lose a few pounds, the nutritionist goes through the guest's fridge and get rid of the bad food. On one episode the guest only had empty takeout containers and the host commented she was "taking out the garbage" rather than looking at the guest's eating habits.
David Bowie claims that in 1976, during the era of his "Thin White Duke" Persona, he lived on "red peppers, cocaine and milk."
Homestar Runner: "I really need to go grocery shopping. I wish my wife didn't leave me."
Also, in the Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, the fridge in Strong Bad's house is either empty or has only one food item (Fluffy Puff Mayonnaise in Homestar Ruiner and a bottle of aerosol cheese spray in Baddest of the Bands)
(Trent wanders into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator door) Trent: Nothing. (peers into the freezer) What's that red stuff? (Jane comes up beside him and also looks into the refrigerator) Jane: Hmm. Nothing. (looks at the red stain) What do you think that is? Trent: Cherry soda? Jane: No, it looks more like cranberry juice. (Amanda suddenly appears between them) Amanda: Nothing. Jane: Well, hi, Mom. Trent: Hey, Mom. Amanda: What is that? Strawberry syrup? Jane: I'm guessing cranberry juice. Trent: Cherry soda.
When Alex moves into his new apartment in Downtown, the first time he investigates the refrigerator, he finds some flies buzzing and two lumps of unidentifiable rotten food.
Chaka: Oh, look, you've got a microwave. Alex: That's the refrigerator.
Otto's fridge on The Simpsons, as well as his whole apartment, which is shown when he's evicted:
Otto: Can I at least get my stuff?
Landlord: All I found in there was some mustard and some old Psycho magazines.
Otto: Whoa! I have mustard?
In one older Woody Woodpecker cartoon, Woody looks in his fridge AND his kitchen cabinets, finding absolutely nothing but notes saying he has no food. This prompts Woody to Break The Fourth Wall and ask, "Would one of you mind stepping out into the lobby and getting me a candy bar?"
One of the cartoons that Warner Brothers produced was all about fairy tales and, when they did "Old Mother Hubbard," she opened one side of her cupboard, showing empty shelves. Her dog opens the other side and finds it stuffed with items, and promptly yells, "Food Hoarder!!" (Remember, this was produced during WWII)